r a c i s m
S T E P H A N I E D I C K I N S O N
On a wool Army blanket he licks her boyish breasts, sucks her wild fruit.
A pallet is what he meant by the shiny street of boutiques. Another man
kneels beside the pallet. He unbuckles. Shows off his worm nestled in
fragrant curls. First time in Chicago she was just a kid on a train in
the dining car. The waiter placed a bouquet on their table. White petals
with red vessels tissuey as lip skin. He wore a uniform made from the
tablecloth. Mother was reading aloud about Liberia. The freed American
blacks sent by President Monroe to Africa to pioneer. Died of malaria in
the swamps then came another ship of freemen. Some lived. The rings
of sweat under their arms are all night saxophones. This is what he
wanted her to see when he beckoned her out of the bus depot. This is Old
Town. His ringlets drip like wet stems, sweet-tasting as they smear over
her face. "Touch me," he says. The freemen founded Monrovia.
Established the first black republic in the world. They dressed in
mourning coats and top hats. They danced the Virginia quadrille. The
second man takes her hand. Ice tinkled in the water glasses, but she
was thirsty for trees and grass. More tenements. Clotheslines
crisscrossing between fire escapes. The waiter kept smiling, his teeth
cloud-white. Factories swarmed by. Wrigley's, Purina, Squaw Woman. More
rickety tenements. Purple shirts flapped as she drank form the
ice-tinkling glass. She bit through the lip of the glass, bit until there
was glass in the bacon lettuce tomato sandwich. Making herself hurt would
heal what she saw. It's done and she steps into the tub's dustiness.
Ceiling sifts down in cake flour and up from the drain albino cockroaches
run. She bites her finger, harder until she breaks the skin, until she
sees the mark of her teeth. Mother whispered, "Be glad you don't have
to live like that."