Among the Shona
a family's success
is weighed by their children's happiness
and the family's state of health
not by the accumulation of material wealth.
Shona people sure are wise
to have the foresight to emphasize
values that strengthen family ties
traditions of sharing, traditions of caring
traditions that instill dignity and pride
that generate beauty on the inside.
We swam in the rain-filled gully
three black kids
unmindful of death’s specter:
cow dung floating like a drowned corpse,
the level of that ditch
our shoulders’ height,
the water to our asses.
And just over the hill the weeds
bowed like cloistered nuns at vespers.
At eye distance just beyond,
our house’s top formed a gray peak
against the crimson sky.
We remembered our fun for days,
talked about it,
longed for another torrent of rain
so that we could splash again
in that death trap...
Always it’s either a beginning or some end:
the baby’s being born or its parents are
dying, fading on like the rose of the poem withers,
its light going out while gardens come in to bloom
Let us stand on street-corners
in the desolate era & propose
a new kind of crazyness
Let us salute one another
one by one two by two
the soft belly moving toward
the long sideburns
the adams apple or no apple at all...
Sat through stories
right through them as if they were told
& I sat through confluence & allegory
through old movies repeated on TV, through leaping blue light
all around the couch
(through unexpected moments, intimations of sex & music
(through bus trips downtown across the bridge
into downtown Dayton over
the Great Miami
through ceremony kept simple, in & back
By the 50’s & 60’s we’d been well-ensconced for years
all along the road from Cincinnati Gateway City
to the south, had pushed in downtown Germantown hill
in fact as far a
Tapped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1dead), grandfathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins (1st & 2nd), nieces, and nephews. They stare across the space at me sprawling on my bunk. I know their dark eyes, they know mine. I am all of them, they are all of me; they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.
At seventeen your thoughts
were younger than your face
and your smile mirrored in dishwater
was Mississippi pleasant
you had large eyes and larger hopes of
marrying somebody rich
or famous or something
you settled for a little house
so close to the tracks that the sound of a train
shook some of everything
you settled for a boy
with eyes larger than your own
you settled for dishwater
just as deep as that you knew at home...