To a Woman of My Grandmother’s Generation

(there are mirrors with your image locked into them)

To awaken to the weary crackling of your bones
must have been a shock.  Did you think it would last
forever?  Negro socials and “Miss Ippi” (said as if
it was the name of some young belle) evenings with
egg yolk yellow setting in the sky and backyard full
of wiry dandelions that your five brothers picked to win
your allegiance.  The ash brown girl from Roosevelt High,
who could shoot a jumper better than any boy, went to town
on Friday evening to be christened “Nigger” for the first time.  She
left because there had to be something more than pressed hair and fried
chicken and weaving cotton and lilies of the valley and tent revivals
and chasing boys and orange soda and foolish white people.
To lose your virginity on your wedding night must have
smacked of freedom.  Did you think you would never be lonely
again?  near celestial nights at brown and tan clubs, plans for “adding
to the family,” pound cake and coffee late on Saturday.  Now, you are a
woman.  “So act like it”: cook and clean, and make him proud and then a
job in your spare time.  You must have expected more than forty years at
the Reflector Hardware Company and polyester slips and backs of buses
and picking collards and frying catfish and World War II and your very
own baby boom.
Your husband died to soon.
Leaving you to retire alone
to me
who would try to explain
all the things you never had
like leisure time, babysitters, second chances, or enough of anything.
All the lucky numbers which never came up
all the ships which are only mirages to inlanders like you
all the days I wanted to touch you, but thought it would not have been enough.
The surprise is
you are satisfied;
oddly content.
I will take your word as gospel,
though I cannot help but think
you must have expected more
than a poem.

Cinnamon Bradley, Chicago, Class of 1998

Originally published in Vol. XIII: 1997