Getting the test back and discovering I am .5% black

Not enough to make a difference, perhaps —
and if it did, what would the difference be?
I am the near-beer of the black community,
which is to say, barely there.
An online book peddler hasn’t heard the news.
They send offers for heirloom editions
titled Your African-American Heritage.
It’s a proud history, they tell the black me

though, according to family rumors
my African-American heritage is the possibility
a paternal great-great-great grandfather
once owned slaves in Guadeloupe:
he is far enough gone to distance from,
close enough to make it real.

In some seller’s database, then, in this wide
uncomfortable place where Plymouth Rock
landed on me, I’ve been co-opted.

When we hung around
the Oakland Dyno-Burger
they didn’t seem to care
I was the only white guy for a mile
in every direction / it was all
warm smiles, bro hugs, fist bumps
like I was a mascot, a leucistic bird
from the hood, wrong-wayed, at sea.
As if it didn’t make a difference
and if it did, what would the difference be?

More than we’d think, or care to think
between our blood and our experience:
we bleed red, yes, but I bleed less.
More than I want, perhaps, but less.

The Bear in the Buckwheat

In Cape Breton, perhaps, some fiddler
could tell me what it means:
it’s the only place I’ve tracked the phrase —
a reel by that name that plays in the Dungreen Set
after “The Primrose Lasses”.

And for him, I’m sure,
there was no connection
when he offered up the line
one morning in a sales meeting,
off-hand, slightly abashed.
He said, “So I told him where
the bear goes in the buckwheat.”

I know very little about bears
but I do know it’s
always the imagined bear
that disturbs our sleep.
The real bear roots in the furze,
tunes out the hiker,
and then turns away
to his termites and his truth.

The image remains from that day —
the animal’s brown flanks
disappearing among the grain,
the stalks shuffling shut behind,
the rooks wheeling in the prairie sky,
and the field left
undisturbed for memory.

For Jeff B, dead of a heart attack

Bus Conversation

Their voices, fatted with gossip
and nimble as bats spun out of the dark
conjure backshed bottles
weeping unpronounceable spirits.

And their scarves touch singingly,
the two nodding Easter eggs of their heads
spring and relax,
their mouths red with exclamations.

A ruddy hand, mottled like sausage,
touches her sister’s
as they pass the Ukrainian church
and its gilded saints.

A man gets up, a sober Canadian man
in a doeskin shirt,
leans cheek to cheek
with this good Canadian woman.
“Can’t you speak English?” he says.

Copyright © 2019 Lilibug Publishing.

Ready-Banner-728x90

Palliative Care

Outside, the children, off from school in spring,
march happily in troops of pealing voices
and you hear them, though just now
you couldn’t hear the doorbell ring
and couldn’t choose between the dinner choices.

When the daffodils came out
and we puttered round the house with sheets
you were the first to see them:
you brought me running with a shout
that shoppers must have heard on Granville Street

though just last night
you couldn’t read the headline of the Sun
before I left to get the errands done.

At midday, when the clouds are overcome
and sparrows fill the spaces with their song
while sunlight fills the nursery
you get up from your chair to see the plum
though yesterday the walk was far too long

and yesterday your legs were weak
and yesterday you wouldn’t speak or stand upright,
but all the evening watched
the steady breathing of the light.