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Friday, July 17, 2015


by James Croteau

Along the Mississippi Delta. Image source: My American Odyssey

Only low beams lit the road
as my parents drove Highway 61
from Memphis through Clarksdale
to Cleveland with civil rights marches
all around us. I never knew
it's not a delta at all, no mouth
until further south. It's all alluvial

plain, this place of my birth. Grandpa
disembarked in Baltimore's harbor
in 1921, moved south when
cotton was still king but
he never planted. Instead he owned
a five and dime on Main Street
in Cleveland. I was proud
to help clerk. Sometimes he'd aim
squinted eyes my way, talk the Italian
he taught me “follow that N-word."

"It's the longest stretch of straight road
east of the Great River," my dad
always said as he drove, low beams
to avoid blinding the oncoming
drivers like us. We got used to not seeing
anything beyond the white

cotton by the side of the road.
Living legacies are often at the periphery
of the privileged. Even amid
outcries at the murders in the streets
and the churches, we whites miss
the lay of the land by
low beaming our questions--
Was the officer following policy?
Was the shooter mentally ill?
Isn't the KKK really to blame?

But I've been lucky, my eyes
have been pried apart by
a few good people. I see some
beyond the well-meant
intentions in front of my face.

The fertile flatness was freely
brought by the floods of the Yazoo
and Mississippi, then it was stolen
and exploited--Indian removal, slavery,
sharecropping, Jim Crow de jure

and de facto, this history's alive and
denied. If I high beam my heart
I can see that I could have been
Darren Wilson, even Dylann Roof.
I learn how the land of my birth
really lies, only when I can feel
the white of my finger placed
everyday on the trigger of the gun

I was given on the day I was born.

James M. Croteau lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan with his partner of 28 years, Darryl, and their two Labrador retrievers. Jim grew up gay and Catholic in the southern United States and loved his mother very much. He has had poems published in Hoot: a Postcard review of {mini} poetry and proseThe New Verse News, and Right Hand Pointing. He has a series of poems upcoming in April 2014 in Assaracus: A Journal of Gay Poetry.