for Mamie Till-Mobley
Perhaps it was nothing more
than the suddenness
of a single black American crow
lifting from the branch
that had me thinking of you.
There in the pale wash of November sky
the bird winged North,
its blue-black splay of wings opening
like some long sought hope
and I wondered about us:
two mothers separated by fifty years.
I imagined an afternoon together with you.
A day, nothing too special,
certainly not that August
when Emmett’s bloated body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River,
a tortured and slain child—
nor late September
when that jury of white men
delayed the verdict sixty minutes by sipping soda pop
before carrying out certain Mississippi justice.
Not these, perhaps a different day
when memory might soften slightly
(if such days do come)
when we might sit,
two women in comfortable silence
interrupted by talk, tea.
I would have been nervous.
My clammy, too-white skin
bearing first an apology
for all that has come before
and comes with me
knowing too well the inadequacy of words—
sounding so slight
against this history of such relentless wrongs.
Perhaps you would have helped me to know
how we might begin to get said
what Williams knew must be said.
Sometime that afternoon
I might have mentioned how my mother
told me Emmett’s story,
the one I never heard repeated in school.
Seated at our kitchen table
with late afternoon tea, my mother claimed
history was rewritten on your loved child’s loss
when you said, “Open it up.
Let the people see
what they did to my boy.”
I knew those men
who mowed lawns on weekends
their shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow
and their women, so taken with their whiteness,
were a savage plague unrelenting.
America, thirty years gone by—
How could I know then
from the privileged whiteness
of home that tonight I would stroke
the sweet, unmarred cheek
of my own adopted boy
so innocent in his sleep, in his waking
knowing it would be only dumb luck
not his mother’s guiding hand,
not his father’s watchful eye
that keeps this child of color