for Jim Barker, Robert Cole, and Johnnetta Cole
How do you keep pace with the age?
Your age, sons and daughters, the young
who never listen. Do your thing, old man.
Selma was nearly fifty years ago.
My old friend, my contemporary now
in Alaska, is taking his photographs there
to show. He calls and we talk of old times,
how much was won that may be lost
if the racists happen to take over.
I refuse to say how lucky we were
to be alive, it’s too much like Wordsworth
in an age more befitting Coleridge,
if you must choose. Love and revolution
subdued by the drugs that bring you pleasure,
which was once nothing more than a poem
to seek the company of the great ones.
Jim wants to know who the man is
riding in the van in his photograph
shot just before the driver said, Get down,
we don’t want you to be seen from the street.
All Jim recalls is, A white man married
to a black woman. Instantly I know
whose was the one interracial marriage
where we lived then. Robert and Johnnetta,
and from Pullman, Washington, to Amherst,
Massachusetts, I followed them without
knowing they would be there. I asked,
Where’s Johnnetta? Bob said, Try Cienfuegos.
Twenty years later Clinton dropped her name
from his potential cabinet members
because the racists protested she was
a revolutionary and still is!
In Jim’s 1965 photograph
the anthropology prof is not there
with her Marxist-economics-teacher
husband; and now when the American
president, the son of a white woman,
says, Sometimes I think I’m just another
black man they’re trying to keep down . . .
but I know the nation depends on me,
so I get past all that and back to work,
I vow never to stop trying to write.
The least I can do. Stop thinking of who
among those who come after me
will read what was written on history’s
magic slate, that old tabula rasa . . .
Learning my long life through what must be done
to leave words behind my bones and ashes.
(20 May 2013)
copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander