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  • Perhaps it was nothing more
    than the suddenness
    of a single black American crow
    lifting from the branch
    that had me thinking of you.
    There in the pale wash of November sky
    the bird winged North,
    its blue-black splay of wings opening
    like some long sought hope
    and I wondered about us:
    two mothers separated by fifty years.

    I imagined an afternoon together with you.
    A day, nothing too special,
    certainly not that August
    when Emmett’s bloated body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River,
    a tortured and slain child—
    nor late September
    when that jury of white men
    delayed the verdict sixty minutes by sipping soda pop
    before carrying out certain Mississippi justice.
    Not these, perhaps a different day
    when memory might soften slightly
    (if such days do come)
    when we might sit,
    two women in comfortable silence
    interrupted by talk, tea.

    I would have been nervous.
    My clammy, too-white skin
    bearing first an apology
    for all that has come before
    and comes with me
    knowing too well the inadequacy of words—
    sounding so slight
    against this history of such relentless wrongs.
    Perhaps you would have helped me to know
    how we might begin to get said
    what Williams knew must be said.

    Sometime that afternoon
    I might have mentioned how my mother
    told me Emmett’s story,
    the one I never heard repeated in school.
    Seated at our kitchen table
    with late afternoon tea, my mother claimed
    history was rewritten on your loved child’s loss
    when you said, “Open it up.
    Let the people see
    what they did to my boy.”
    I knew those men
    who mowed lawns on weekends
    their shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow
    and their women, so taken with their whiteness,
    were a savage plague unrelenting.

    America, thirty years gone by—

    How could I know then
    from the privileged whiteness
    of home that tonight I would stroke
    the sweet, unmarred cheek
    of my own adopted boy
    so slight
    so innocent in his sleep, in his waking
    knowing it would be only dumb luck
    not his mother’s guiding hand,
    not his father’s watchful eye
    that keeps this child of color
    safe.
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