Downtown

Driving downtown on the weekend

To the sand-colored library

With its furrowed brows

We pass the homeless people

Slumped against buildings in the heat

Bare feet resting on church steps

Lined up

In empty, cactus lined parking lots

To tents

That I hope are handing out water

 

Lenora asks

Why they are all black

 

They used to be all white

Where we used to live

And I realize this explanation

Won’t be a quick one

 

Because it starts hundreds of years ago

Maybe longer

Involves a map

Inked with melanin

Ships crossing

United states

The South

And of course

Slavery

And War

 

My mind slips around these

Behemoths

To when I was in school

With black kids

Who were bused in

From the neighboring city

Where there were no neighborhood schools

For them to attend

So the kids there were parceled out

Divided

Bused in small groups

To our neighborhood schools

 

We were taught to be proud

Part of a grand democratic experiment

Sitting in the multi-purpose room

We watched dancers in brightly patterned clothes

And headscarves

Drumming and jumping to African music

We studied civil rights

As a finished chapter of history

Where bad and backwards people

Were enlightened or conquered

We sang the world a song

And furnished it with love

 

I never wondered, then

What it was like

To be the only black kid

In fourth grade

 

 

I wonder if it is right, now

To teach that the glistening, bird-filled

Colorblind world

Is near at hand

 

Or is it more true

To make a number line

With the hundreds of years

Start tallying up the damage

Minus the progress

And hold it up to measure

The line of homeless people

In the cactus-lined lot

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