I sit across from you at the all you can eat buffet
on Rhode Island Avenue. You’re so happy to find
a real soul food restaurant, you say,
between mouthfuls of chitterlings and corn.
You watch two Somali women walk in.
Say to me, without a pause, foreigners
come to this country and take our money, jobs.
Take and Take and Take and refuse to assimilate.
Junking up decent people’s neighborhoods.
Twenty to a house. We don’t live like that.
I almost say my family did. Lived on a dirt floor,
in a shotgun house, no running water, no toilet.
Nothing but a black pot-bellied stove
full of ash and cinder. And we fresh from
the cotton, the tobacco fields. At the Delta’s edge,
my great grandfather said,
we will not always live like we do.
And I am back with you, over a plate
of pig feet and kale. You take another
bite so happy, you sweat vinegar and hot sauce.
I know your mama worked everyday
Even the day she died.
Trying always to earn enough,
save enough to go home to Haiti.
Penniless to bury her, you left her to rest
Where dying cities plant their poor.
I wonder who have you become since
and what part of you died with her.
Virginia Beach, 1963
Every other Sunday
From May to September
Heaped the ten of us
Into their matching
Sky blue ’63 Caddys
Like we were flowers found
Or dirty laundry
My cousins five of them
My siblings (oh die would they!)
Clumped up trying not to breathe
Each other’s air
Floating full with our happy hearts
We’d roll tail to fender
Silos tractors peanut fields
Broad leaf tobacco
Then there we were again
At the edge of Earth
We’d jitter to tumble into sand
While our grandmothers strolled
As if the ocean wasn’t waiting
As if our hearts weren’t breaking
Our world turning on the swing of generous hips
Behind them us ten
Skittered side to side
Dragging two blue green umbrellas
Four pink lounge chairs
One red cooler popping full of food
Flopping back and forth
Our grandmothers sat in hot sand
Hats pulled down
Ducking splashes of sun
We dove and swam leaping
Where sky falls into water
Our skin baking brown
Among a burning
sea of white
Carleasa Coates is a writer and trial attorney in Washington, DC. She was awarded a Fellowship from Cave Canem, and has been published in Mezzo Camin, and in the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems about Washington, DC, and has been a featured reader at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. To read more of her work: Five Poems, Spring 2008.