Five of us, including you, Tony,
wandered in the cold woods
where the African dead belong.
The crooning wind blew its
falsetto oo—near the gully, not far from
the tree the slaves planted,
where Aunt Kitty steals away to Jesus,
sways—kneeling in dirt—
hands to heaven, as her singing
mixes joy with sorrow, the way spirituals
do. Aunt Kitty, who lived in the attic
above the kitchen, is the great-
grandmother of lawyer Jay Reynolds,
who came from Critz to join us for dinner—
vegetables, too salty for my taste—
and for the tour that followed.
Remember? We stood in fading light
beside her wood cook-stove. I was wearing
new clothes, bought for the occasion,
a turtleneck under a sweater, jeans,
and gazing upward—hoping to catch a detail
like the rustle of her petticoat between the
rafters—to make her real.
I read my longest poem
just as darkness filled the arbor:
the one about faces and their importance
in terms of story. You explained
the meaning of the pot
and how the slaves turned it on its side,
catching the sounds of their
dangerous praise. You called your speech,
“Life in the Cabins,” and, in your wisdom,
used words from corn-shuck songs.
You said you wouldn’t sing
but joined the choir, your words under-
girded by great drops of sweat
as great as the face I saw on that dead tree.
Perhaps what you dream of is already so:
it was October when my freedom came.
I sat on the front row, looking at you,
clenching my hands in fists.