In Order to Deny the Fact of Death, Which Is the Only Fact We Have
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.
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.
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
is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders
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.
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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