Subtitle: One on-going page of a personal memoir
There’s an olden story,
(a joke, really)
I first heard at my father’s knee.
“Son,” he admonished, “you’d better see!”
An olden story still being (having to be) told.
Truly, the unfunniest joke, which, later,
I understood was meant to be necessarily unfunny.
First, to mask the unceasing pain of being unseen
or, rather, being seen
and then dismissed, because you look like this,
secondly, to teach a biting lesson of bitterest self-awareness.
(Therefore, when my father said, “You’d better see!”
really, he meant, “So, better to see!”
“No matter where you go,
how high, how far,
someone, somewhere will call you by this name
so, to remind you of what they think you are.”)
What’s the name white America
(sometimes, behind-the-back, whispered, snickered
and sometimes, in like company, thundered)
A black Ivy League-educated, Wall Street
(could be in New York City, but Tulsa, back in the day)
or corporate director
(for the occupation and title, truly, never matter)?
A black graduate school-educated Episcopal cleric
with over 40 years of service
in congregations of every size and color,
the last, nearly all-white
(though, to some sure degree, there
serving as window-dressing,
being the one at whom folks pointing
could swear as visual proof of how wonderfully liberal they were),
who, millions of words in the finest King’s English,
has written and spoken,
even with a book to his credit,
and preached from pulpits America-round
and as distantly-bound as
and, even on a Christmas Day, in Firenze?
It’s a too common word, for it’s still oft heard,
numbering 6 letters and beginning with N.
Now, to my white friends, I don’t intend to offend.
Truly, I don’t
(but, frankly, that I must think to say it
is more than a mark of good manners,
a sign of racism’s systemic, psyche-deep fettering hold
forbidding that I ever be so bold,
that I never be too bold so as to disturb you),
I know (or I think I know) that some of you,
who with civil (read: polite) sensibilities,
might (will?) be stricken by this I have written
and, with dismay, say:
“Such a notion never would occur to me.”
“I’ve never heard such a thing.”
Hmmm, that’s doubtful.
“I can’t imagine this word being said about the black people I know.”
Mmmm, what you can’t imagine, trust me,
I, as someone you do know,
has had occasion (many!) to have heard this word directed at me.
If this I have written strikes you as unfunny and angry,
then you have read me rightly.
For I am.
For every marching, protesting step
means the message of equality still must be said,
for it has yet to be heard
(and not with outward ears,
but with the inward auricular sense of the soul;
enough to change what we believe and how we behave).
And every word of hate from presidential lips,
for “He’s just being himself” (Right!)
or “He didn’t mean it that way” (Wrong!),
is but red (read: racist) meat for voracious crowds
who, with raucous cheers,
though knowing me not,
well know my name,
for it begins with N.
© 2020 PRA