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On the Piney Woods, Death, Bobby Frank Cherry, and Me

ISSUE:  Summer 2019

“He said he lit the fuse,” testified ex-wife [of Bobby Frank Cherry] Willadean Brogdon.

They move through the exit. The drama of their earthly life comes to a close….
These children, unoffending, innocent, and beautiful. 

—Martin Luther King Jr., speaking at the funeral of four girls
killed in the Birmingham bombing, 1963

Sometimes I wander around wondering
where my mother is. The family buried
her next to her own mother. Out there,
the hard pines darken early. Anyone
can hide and not be found for years.
Bobby Cherry laid low there. The girls came
in his dreams. You can’t live in those woods
and not be haunted by what you’ve done.
So he had to be more given to visitation
than most. They wouldn’t have come whole;
they would have arrived in bits and pieces,
the way he left them. They would have held
bits of church brick and holy bric-a-brac.
They might have come as a glove or a hat
small enough for their child heads. I imagine
they were laughing or singing before the bomb
went off so they may have moved through
the house as voices or the tiny tap of a shoe.
I lived out there when he did. I didn’t know
he was there. It makes sense. It was a place
inhabited by the lost and the found, by horror
and grace. I am haunted by memories, as
present as ghosts. As clearly seen as friends.
I believe in ghosts and am grateful I have 
committed no crimes. Though, I am untouchable, 
I was born so. Under four pounds, bent-legged, 
pale, and stricken. I went straight into an incubator. 
A metal tit. Monkeyed against a glass and wire frame.
The girls would have been only a few years older
than me. They died as I was born. They were blown
to the winds of 1963. I was born into the storm of them.
And I cannot hold it all together. The pieces,
of them, of me. My mother hated my needing
to touch her. To have her in my sight. Young
and pretty enough to flit and flirt away into an 
evening. I cried myself sick 
whenever she left. I wound myself around her 
when she returned and I could feel the wince in her 
gaze, in her gloved hands pushing me away. When 
we feel unloved does it matter who doesn’t love us? 
She did not hate me. No crime was committed. 
Had Bobby known I lived down the road 
he would have hated me.
l knew early on I could be blown to bits by any
white man with enough rage. Some are unwanted
and live. Some are erased. It is not a matter of degree.
It is a matter of intent. Those girls were loved.
Why aren’t they here? Why am I?


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