I scrape my brain to erase
the memory of a white man
calling me nigger.
His silhouette stood in the sun
and shadow grew across the pavement
of the grocery store parking lot.
I wanted to say something
to defend myself
and the history of my ancestors,
but I was alone
and only ten years old.
I didn’t realize the weight
his words carried in the air
but still felt the suffering
these syllables created.
I watched him walk away,
feeling shackled by history
and the whiteness of its pages.
I told my mother when I got home,
hoping she would understand.
But she told me this is America,
that my skin must learn to scar,
so I can’t feel the whip
carried by men like him.
I attended my grandfather’s funeral
in a half-forgotten Baptist church
housed between exposed buildings
where segregation lingered like addiction.
My colleagues gave me a card and condolences,
but I only knew him from childhood
and that he was a black man who served in the Navy,
stationed in the South Pacific during WW II.
He also had a dead daughter I never met
that we weren’t allowed to talk about.
She was mentioned briefly at the service
as my family compared resumes
passing them off as his legacy.
But they didn’t say that she felt too much
humanity to remain sane
or that chaos consumed her body
long before the drugs.
This type of honesty doesn’t read well
in a family picture where everyone smiles.
I heard she once held the strength of the universe
but fell into her mind a year after I was born,
that her thoughts crippled her body
and held on like gravity.
We buried my grandfather that day,
next to his wife and daughter,
where the weeds had overgrown
their broken tombstones.
David M. Taylor teaches at a community college in St. Louis, MO. His work has appeared in various magazines such as Albany Poets, Misfit Magazine, Indigent Press A La Carte, Rat’s Ass Review, and Philosophical Idiot. He also has three poetry chapbooks–M&Ms and Other Insignificant Poems, Two Cobras in a Ritual Dance, and Life’s Ramblings.