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Kin


ISSUE:  Fall 2009

—for Roy Lee Jefferson

He has the surname that suggests
a contested kinship: Jefferson—
the name, too, of this dead-end street
cut in half by highway 49. Here,
at the corner where it crosses Alabama,
he’s perched on the stoop, early evening,
at my cousin Tammy’s house, empty
bottles at his feet. When he sees me
opening the gate, walking up smiling,
he reads me first as white woman, then—
he says—half-breed. It’s my hair, he tells me:
No black woman got hair like that,
and my car, a sedan he insists
the cops don’t let black people drive,
not here, not without pulling them over
again and again. He’s still wearing
his work uniform—grass stains and clippings
from the mower he pushed all day—
and his name-tag, a badge, still pinned
to his collar. He tells me he’d swap the badge
for one from another boss, switch jobs
if he could get more pay; says
his boss has plenty of money: cheese,
he calls it—Man’s tight with it, he squeak
when he walk.
So Roy waits, biding
his time, he says, till the Lord bless me
with something else.
When he goes quiet,
I ask him the easy question—one I know
he’s been asked a hundred times—
just to hear him talk: where were you
during the storm?
That’s when he tells me
what he hasn’t this whole time, holding it back
maybe, saving it for the right moment:
I got a baby with your cousin Tammy’s sister—
that makes us kin. You can’t run
from the Lord.
I don’t know what he sees
in my face, but he grins at me, nodding.
White girl, he says. You gone come
see my baby, come up to the country
where we stay? He’s walking away now,
a tall-boy in his hand. I’m trying to say
yes, one day, sure, but he’s nearly gone,
looking back over his shoulder, shaking
his head, laughing now as he says this:
When you waiting on kinfolks,
you be waiting forever.

 

In Verse is supported by Public Radio Makers Quest 2.0, an initiative of AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio. This project is made possible with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by a broadcast partnership with Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen.

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