[from Toi Derricotte's Captivity, University of Pittsburgh, 1989]
When relatives cam from out of town,
we would drive down to Blackbottom,
drive slowly down the congested main streets
-- Beubian and Hastings --
trapped in the mesh of Saturday night.
Freshly escaped, black middle class,
we snickered, and were proud;
the louder the streets, the prouder.
We laughed at the bright clothes of a prostitute,
a man sitting on a curb with a bottle in his hand.
We smelled barbecue sooking in dented washtubs,
and our moths watered.
As much as we wanted it we couldn't take the chance.
Rhythm and blues came from the windows, the throaty voice of
a woman lost in the bass, in the drums, in the dirty down
and out, the grind.
"I love to see a funeral, then I know it ain't mine."
We rolled our windows down so that the waves rolled over us
We hoped to pass invisibly, knowing on Monday we would
return safely to our jobs, the post office and classroom.
We wanted our sufferings to be offered up as tender meat,
and our triumphs to be belted out in raucous song.
We had lost our voice in the suburbs, in Conant Gardens,
where each brich house delineated a fence of silence;
we had lost the right to sing in the street and damn creation.
We returned to wash our hands of them,
to smell them
whose very existence
tore us down to the human.
[excerpt from "Fires of Childhood"]
II. The Chicago Streetcar Fire
. . . burning out of the
center of the Free Press, its peeling paint
crackling like paper.
I hid the pictures from my mother, needing to see
those who were fried in an
iron skillet, the men, women, children
melted together in a crust of skin,
a blackened hand more dense
than charred steak, as if it had been
forgotten in the fire years. They crammed together
at the exit as if terror could
leap through locked doors.
Only a fraction of an inch
from safety! Maybe if one had
gone the other way --
blood going up in flames
like gasoline, heads torches.
Children who did not
escape their childhoods --
Captivity (Pitt Poetry Series)