by Henry Hardee


Grandma rockin':
the cleanliness, the peace,
the waiting to be taken back
by the Mississippi soil
that was her mother.

the cotton fields were her mother's milk
and protection
from burning crosses.

In that cradle there was always
someone she could break her back
working for
but no one to make her a queen.


Grandma rockin':
always dressed in white,
always talking to God and
telling him that no matter
how much sorrow comes her way
she would not be broken by it.

She ain't never knowed a time
when some misery
wasn't trying to tear her into
tears and the pieces 
of melody in her favorite hymn--

"Two wings to veil my face..."

No matter how much they took from her
she still had more.


Grandma rockin':
no piano
just humming and
creaking floor boards.

Her reality was the music
coming from the rhythms
women pounded meal to in africa,

the music of a tenant farmer
washboard band
wailin' blue notes.

That music flowed to the hurt
inside of her and
soothed it.


Grandma was a tree
struck by the lightning of
racism that burns and kills

Everyday there were memories
of it that lived
on and on in her mind and
couldn't be stopped.

Memories Black

Memories of losing
her children to lynching.

Memories of stockyards
that called her children up North
to be "Scabs"
only to be beaten by strikers
who let their blood
run through Chicago streets.

It was her bleeding.
She had paid the price in blood.
She was a ball of cotton
purged of it's seed.

Her heart still remembers.

Blame, grief, anger and rage
have lead her into woebegone where
she sits rockin',
listening to her babies scream,

"Why do they hate us?
 Is it because we're Black?"


Grandma's fingerprints were
all over the Family Bible but
she couldn't read.

She'd just close her eyes and
run her fingers across the pages 
and the print would speak to her.

Looking at her casket
in the funeral home
was like looking in the big trunk
of keepsakes
I rummaged through the day before.

Her body had taken the place
of patchwork quilts,

black & white photos,

a wooden cross with scratches on it
(that told me how old she was),

a paper with "X" on it
that said she still belonged
to Marse Tom Reed and

a black flowered head rag
with silver dollars in it
was all that she had saved.

I got up to say my last goodbye.

I hear her music:

The music of her living,
the music of her loving and
the music of her dying.  

The notes were:

coon crackling in the oven,

the squeals of little girls getting
tight braids put in their hair,

the braying of stubborn mules
in the hot noonday sun and

prayers rising out of revival tents.

I looked into her face.
It was celestial
a direct connection
to divinity and mercy.  
I bent over and whispered,

"Tell Jesus I'm coming!"


© Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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