In Order to Deny the Fact of Death, Which Is the Only Fact We Have

Annie Woodford

                 Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will

                   sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos,

                   crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to

                   deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.

                        —James Baldwin

I’ve made my old man get up

& spin me to “Dixie Chicken.”

He says I like to lead, but I can’t tell.

        We fit right in with these folks.

For once I am younger or the same age

as women who also have roughened faces.

I watch them angle through the smoke

of one of the last places to flout that law,

swimming in nicotine, bewildered

by a world grabbed & lost flicking by on TV.

            It’s March Madness.

At the bar, old men tip back Bud Lights

& look up to watch elite athletes —

young & brown & lean — running

the court in uniforms bright as battle flags.

I both identify & deny identity here.

I know the arpeggios of Bill Payne’s

piano & I can sing along too,

although the melody flattens out

when I see everyone else knows

the words as well.

                    Couples dance

to this music that’s all miscegenation.

Those Alabama-Canada boys worshipped

at the altar of Muddy Waters

& a blackness they could imitate

& only sometimes understand.

But we are very white in here tonight.

The bikers & the rednecks — grooving

to a backbeat Jaimo set down solid as love —

do not commingle easily with other races

& there’s sticker by the cash register that says,

A taxpayer voting for Obama

is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders

even though

        many of these folks

have mixed-race grandbabies & are counting

on Medicare & an SSI check each month.

Darrell at the bar is from my hometown.

He was a union organizer at Pannill Mills

before they closed down, another working man

burned by NAFTA, knocked to his knees

        never to get up again

                (at least in this world)

turning mean, & I can barely hear him

above the TVs & Whipping Post

playing in the other room.

Now I know what redneck originally meant

& how many of us here descended

from Ulster Plantation scabs.

I’d like to say the anger isn’t mine,

even as my feet are held to the same fire.

I keep a careful check on the word

that sometimes takes shape in my brain.

I study the crescents in my fingernails

& hope somewhere down the line

there’s a good reason I don’t freckle.

All my family chokes

                                        on the hope

they are better than a black man.

I fit in so well here.

                    These people

know me for their own & it’s beguiling

to be part of the tribe, even as I follow

that slide, Blind Willie McTell telling me,

Wake up, Mama. Turn that lamp down low.


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