by Thomas Davis
Memory silks like a worm
into a place where comfort ought to be.
Inside a kitchen, bristling with energy,
the woman sits beside a young man
who looks as if he’s lost what self he had.
“You can’t tell anyone, no relatives.”
Her voice was hitched, almost a whisper,
but still as strong as springtime river currents.
The young man looks at her, tongue-tied.
“In Dalhart, Texas, years ago,
you had a second cousin birth twins,”
she said. “The scandal tore the family
as if a funnel cloud had come from nowhere,
ripping our family tree and smashing it
to smithereens, its remnants strewn debris.”
She looked at the young man, saw how words
had brought blood to eyes, reddening them,
hands clutched below the table.
“One twin was black, the other white,” she said.
“Your cousin’s husband concluded sin the moment
the doctor tossed the news into his craw.”
She wrung her hands upon the tabletop.
“It weren’t no sin, though, not a raindrop’s worth.
They traced the family back to New Orleans
where a white Frenchman married a slave woman,
giving our family Nigerian blood.”
“Our family?” the young man asked, stunned out of hurt.
She grinned, triumphant. She’d nicked away the words
nursed inside his I-ought-to-go-eat-worms.
“Your relatives deny it’s true,” she said.
“People in that bigoted town saw twins
downtown, a boy and girl, and slurred their hate
in spit-fulls, but it wasn’t sin at all.
It was human spinning generations
into a mix that makes humanity.”
She looked at him again. “The relatives
Will kill me if they know I’ve told that tale.”
Inside the small, dark room, I look at her,
Into her eyes. She doesn’t look at me.
Alive inside her emptiness, old age
An eraser, she doesn’t know I’m here.