unabashed, she calls out to passerby
her friends sitting behind, holding cardboard boxes they’ve sharpie-d over
with the slogans so many of us
are greeting, today, with snark and suspicion and sneer:
their pit bull sits, restlessly, at the youngest girl’s side
straining at its leash
lurching forward toward my knee as I pass through
their tiny corner of resistance, existence
my market bag is bulging with the spoils of privilege:
organic heirloom tomatoes
eight-dollar cheese (purchased also, I saw as I stood sweating in line,
by a tired mother wrangling three babies
waving her EBT vouchers at the tattooed cheesemaker,
this tattooed cheesemaker who surely is among the blessed
even if we only know it because Monty Python
deliberately misheard the Savior’s gospel);
and the dog must want to get in a good a sniff.
I’ve spent the morning strolling through the streets
of this town where I live.
outside my door, it takes four blocks before I see
someone whose skin pales in comparison
it takes four blocks, too, before I meet
someone who refuses to return
my standard, southern greeting:
her skin is pale, too, and she also refuses
to look me in the eye.
another four-block first.
I live here, but only recently.
I live here, but only uneasily.
I live here, but I do not understand this place.
I am a young, ignorant, hipster gentrifier, I suppose,
luxuriating in the industrial charm of this old
textile factory building that has anchored a neighborhood
through decades of boom and bust,
white and black,
hustle and abandon.
this town is changing so quickly that no one seems to know
which way is up or which
way is down.
I do not know if living here is right or wrong,
responsible or reprehensible.
I do know
that every time I walk outside my building,
i am confronted with the reality
that my reality
is not my neighbors’.
the thin, weighted woman who walks past
the electric-car charging station in the parking lot,
a different man trailing her at a safe distance each time
as she leads them through the hedge and toward
an abandoned lot in the next block
definitely isn’t buying herself any eight-dollar cheese,
EBT voucher or no.
the aimless, wandering woman who purrs
and swoons at my dog every time we see her,
who wins a tail wag and a face lick for calling her
‘pup-pup’ and crooning with delight
certainly isn’t carrying home peonies to preen
in a Mason jar on her kitchen table.
I do not think she has a Mason jar to her name,
much less a table or,
lord have mercy, a kitchen.
but mostly, living here reveals the thing
that no one would teach me in decades of schooling,
that no one would admit to me in years of
being taught to tell the truth:
my skin may pale in comparison
but, because of the way
we’ve allowed our world to work,
my life matters more.
this is a thing so deeply twisted
that I can barely bear it.
and even this, even
my inability to bear its reality
is symptom and shibboleth of its truth.
I have never, will never, won’t ever be compelled
to stand on a street corner,
summon every ounce of god-given worth,
wave sharpie-d over cardboard boxes
to any and all passerby
in an attempt to make it so:
I AM HERE.
STOP KILLING ME.
unabashed, she called out.
I thanked her, smiled at her friends,
bent my knee to give the dog a good whiff
of all that eight-dollar cheese,
I walked home, pluck and pain and hope
echoing through the neighborhood.
wisdom cries aloud in the streets.
how long, o simple ones, will you wallow in ignorance?
WE ARE HERE.
STOP KILLING US.