by Kim Harvey
I come from chicken pluckers, cotton pickers,
factory workers, railroaders, hogs, outhouses
and feedbags. I come from seeding and watering
and reaping and shucking and snapping.
I come from harmonicas, fiddles, washboards
and thimbles. I come from Eudon, Rebel, Jewel, and Estel.
I come from Delilah, whose daddy died and left her
one elderly Negro woman named Jane
valued at zero dollars.
I come from peanuts and tobacco,
smokers, drinkers, teetotalers, Bible
Belters, a great aunt in Alabama
who drove her boys through black neighborhoods
after church so they could shout, Go home niggers
and throw soda cans and beer cans and rocks
out of car windows and laugh.
I come from Clarence, my grandfather,
a milkman who would leave Curles Neck Dairy bottles
with thick cream on top at the front door. I come
from a nurseryman, my great-grandfather, who planted
trees down the Boulevard and at Bryan Park,
where my parents used to make out on school nights
and where a gay man was found decapitated,
his head on a stake. I come from dogwood
and magnolia, honeysuckle and azalea.
I come from a mother who was orphaned at sixteen
and a father who rode his bike to tell the landlord
his parents couldn’t make the rent again while his
father drank his paper route money at the bar.
I come from Old Spice and Shalimar,
Yoo-Hoos and vodka, fried chicken skins in a cup,
day old biscuits mashed up in milk or poured over
with corn syrup. I come from truck stops
on the way to family reunions, sweet tea,
buttered rolls and pinball.
I come from Jesus knocking on your door
and only you can let Him in. I come from the sheriff
at your house in the middle of the night
shining a flashlight in your eyes and questions
and secrets and lies and uncles stealing
money and wives from each other, throwing
knives and breaking bottles.
I come from houses burning down with family photos
up in flames and no one wanting to take the blame
for a lit cigarette left on the radio all day.
I come from a second cousin who died young
when his tractor hit a power line and who was buried
with a Confederate flag in the 1990’s and toy soldiers
standing watch over his tombstone that says,
SEE YOU ON THE SOUTHERN SIDE OF HEAVEN.
I come from Uncle Larry, who stabbed
his girlfriend to death with a kitchen knife
while my mother was pregnant with my brother,
who was born two days after the trial.
I come from Tommy, my only brother,
who taught me how to throw a knuckleball, who
wrote in his third grade notebook: Blue Jay – if I
was a bird I’d fly in the sky, who would play
you at pool or cards and always win the bet,
who at nineteen was buying crack
in the projects when he was shot eight times
in the face and left on the side of the road
to die, rivulets of blood, whose blood still runs
through me, my head bowed, my hands raised
because I know, I know and I’m not afraid to say,
there was a debt to pay.
[More poems by Kim Harvey]
[Check out Kim Harvey’s back porch advice]