“white” is not an adequate ethnic label in America. but “Black” is. it often falls to me— their “Black teacher”— to explain. we were raised from ship hulls on hooks, pried loose from the rigid dead, spoons unstacked from the bent, the rusted. we were traded on commercial winds. copper and cloth. rum and molasses. tobacco and hemp. last names more honest, more telling, than Washington. Johnson. Henry. Freeman. Freedman. Brown. others have acknowledged pasts, are allowed a hyphenated heritage. can add “American” to the end of anything. Irish. Italian. German. Dutch. French. there is no need for “white” unless making a statement, a distinction. like separating laundry. or water fountains. but our Ur-nation is undiscovered. seven possible ports are not a country. so we are known by our hue (Colored, Negro, Black) or remain caught in the middle, the passage between whole continents (Africa, America).
sailing Route 203
it was the casual racism of white women who trusted me—
how consistently they relayed fathers’ fears for their safety—
that piqued my interest, opened my eyes on this stretch of road
where Gallivan Boulevard turns to Morton Street. how black-
top turns treacherous, fills with basilisks and dragons pushing
toward the edge of their liquid world. how pale drivers never
lift eyes from taillights or stray beyond serrated lines.
how white knuckles kraken-clutch 10 and 2, lest souls be snatched
from seats by Scylla or Charybdis— Jamal or D’Vontaye—
at every flash of yellow on the horizon (and how they fear the red!).
how i can almost hear teeth grinding in jaws over the sound
of an already locked door desperately trying to re-engage again
and again and again, windows scraping upward like sea glass over
Leviathan’s scales. how their backs straighten in safe waters,
growing bold once they hit the Arborway feeling they’ve tamed
the narrow green serpent wanting to throw their weight off
her fearful back. how furtive glances become naked aggression
as property values rise and dark monsters submerge in the rearview.
MEH: "I am Matthew E. Henry, a Pushcart nominated poet with works appearing or forthcoming in various publications including The Anglican Theological Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Kweli Journal, Longleaf Review, Poetry East, The Radical Teacher, Relief Journal, and 3Elements Review. I am an educator and received my MFA from Seattle Pacific University, yet continue to spend money I don't have pursuing a MA in theology and a PhD in education."