TWO POEMS

RAE PARIS

CHRISTMAS DAY

Miss Annie, daughter of an ex-slave, needed someone to watch the White girl,
so she told my grandmother, who got my mother ready.
I don’t why she did this, says my mother on the phone,
she must have…I don’t know…, and I know by now to wait.

She told my grandmother who got my mother ready,
all done up, red dress ruffled, let’s say black patent shoes,
she must have, I don’t know…, and I know by now to wait.
Why she got me so dressed up I didn’t know,

all done up, red dress ruffled, let’s say black patent shoes
crunching seashells, white and broken, through the 7th Ward.
I didn’t know why she got me so dressed up,
but Mummy said it would be okay. It would all be fine, she said,

crunching seashells, white and broken, through the 7th Ward,
Miss Annie in some other room, me sitting nice, that White girl playing.
But Mummy said it would be okay. She said it would all be fine.
I don’t know why. I was so young and small in my Sunday best,

Miss Annie in some other room, me sitting nice, that White girl playing.
Miss Annie must have paid her something for my time.
My Sunday best, so young and small—I don’t know why.
See how the White people live, she’d say. Watch how they do.

Miss Annie must have paid her something for my time,
Miss Annie, daughter of an ex-slave, who needed someone to watch the White girl.
See how the White people live, she said. Watch how they do.
I don’t know why she did this, says my mother on the phone.

.

.

Conversation in Bop #1: One Bright Morning

Take it, says my mother, I was going to throw it away but
there might be something in there you want. What’s in it? I
don’t know, things, some cards people sent, and other stuff. His
diplomas. Where? I say. In the closet, she says. A used white box:
GLASS in the room where you slept that used to be a garage.
A year and a half after your funeral and I’m home again. Home.

I’ll fly away, I’ll fly away…

A box full of Holy Ghost, Booker T., Xavier, evidence of neighborhood,
segregation, slavery, evidence of days of dreaming, planning, wanting more.
Discharge papers. Be it known in 1950 you were a Basic Airman. Be it known
you repaired radios. Be it known your service in the 616 Communications
Squadron was Honest and Faithful. Be it known by 1953 you were a Sargent.
Evidence of Race: Negroid. Evidence of Color Hair: Black, Color Eyes: Brown,
Height: 5’8, Weight: 165. Medals: Korea, United Nations, National Defense,
Good Conduct. IRS business cards. Also, your passport stamped Philippines.

I’ll fly away, I’ll fly away…

The cards, all the cards say you’re in a better place, they’ll say a prayer, a mass,
you’re free from pain. A letter from your mother in New Orleans November 1984,
one month before she died. She was very happy to hear from you and receive the
girls pictures. She’s doing O.K. Lots of rain and very cold weather at present 32
degrees. She sends her love to all. The note from your sister, Ramona, now dead:
1/15/85 Dear Bubber, Enclosed is a copy of mama’s death notice. Tell everyone hello.
I’ll fly away, I’ll fly away…

And now, this never now, “My father is dead” happens less than “Were you ever here?”
You were born and baptized December 24, 1932, January 15, 1933. Your wallet.
Laminated prayer card of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, White man relic you carried to end
of days. We have loved him during life, let us not abandon him. The toothpick still en-
cased in plastic kills me. The embarrassing way you went at your teeth in restaurants. I
sniff thin leather. Evidence of what life? Whose marked fragile life is this? I break.

I’ll fly away, I’ll fly away…

RAE PARIS is from Carson, California. She is a NEA Fellow whose writing appears or is forthcoming in Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts in Los Angeles, Transition Magazine, Guernica, The Common, Solstice, Dismantle, and many others. She lives and writes mostly in East Lansing, Michigan, where she’s Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Michigan State University.