Black, Poured Directly into the Wound-Patricia Smith

This poem popped in my inbox today just as I was lamenting the late arrival of Timothy B. Tyson’s most recent book, The Blood of Emmett Till. If you don’t know about it then please Google his name. 

It is a story that I have known about since I was probably ten. I saw the pictures of his distorted, bloated body and became obsessed with knowing everything about his murder. The same thing happened when I found out about Medgar Evers. Until the arrival of the book, I will just satisfy myself with the words of Patricia Smith. 

Happy Thursday! 

Prairie winds blaze through her tumbled belly, and Emmett’s

red yesterdays refuse to rename her any kind of mother.

A pudge-cheeked otherwise, sugar whistler, her boy is

(through the fierce clenching mouth of her memory) a

grays-and-shadows child. Listen. Once she was pretty.

Windy hues goldened her skin. She was pert, brown-faced,

in every wide way the opposite of the raw, screeching thing

chaos has crafted. Now, threaded awkwardly, she tires of the

sorries, the Lawd have mercies. Grief’s damnable tint

is everywhere, darkening days she is no longer aware of.

She is gospel revolving, repeatedly emptied of light, pulled

and caressed, cooed upon by strangers, offered pork and taffy.

Boys in the street stare at her, then avert their eyes, as if she

killed them all, shipped every one into the grips of Delta. She sits,

her chair carefully balanced on hell’s edge, and pays for sanity in

kisses upon the conjured forehead of her son. Beginning with A,

she recites (angry, away, awful) the alphabet of a world gone red.

Coffee scorches her throat as church ladies drift about her room,

black garb sweating their hips, filling cups with tap water, drinking,

drinking in glimpses of her steep undoing. The absence of a black

roomful of boy is measured, again, again. In the clutches of coffee,

red-eyed, Mamie knows their well-meaning murmur. One says She

a mama, still. Once you have a chile, you always a mama. Kisses

in multitudes rain from their dusty Baptist mouths, drowning her.

Sit still, she thinks, til they remember how your boy was killed.

She remembers. Gush and implosion, crushed, slippery, not a boy.

Taffeta and hymnals all these women know, not a son lost and

pulled from the wretched and rumbling Tallahatchie. Mamie, she

of the hollowed womb, is nobody’s mama anymore. She is

tinted echo, barren. Everything about her makes the sound sorry.

The white man’s hands on her child, dangled eye, twanging chaos,

things that she leans on, the only doors that open to let her in.

Faced with days and days of no him, she lets Chicago — windy,

pretty in the ways of the North — console her with its boorish grays.

A hug, more mourners and platters of fat meat. Will she make it through?

Is this how the face slap of sorrow changes the shape of a

mother? All the boys she sees now are laughing, drenched in red.

Emmett, in dreams, sings I am gold. He tells how dry it is, the prairie.


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