THE SEGREGATED HEART
Nowadays I call no one place home.
For awhile it was a house on the highest land around,
a hill that lightning always struck during the summer
storms when I watched the sky go green and black
and suddenly begin to move. Then the trees belonged
less to the ground than to the upper air.
The oaks and hickories bent almost to break,
their leaves turned inside out by gusts of rain,
their branches whirling, vanished, reappeared
quick as the fire that leapt up in the distance
to shatter itself in branching veins of light,
then instantly be whole again. From within, I heard
the thunder, the clouds travel to the edge of hills.
I wanted to take their motion for my own and yet
I wanted to stay, to see the new leaves reflecting
in the sun, millions of green mirrors hanging from the trees.
Within the house, down the narrow hallway,
in the small rooms, we lived each day the same:
politely and in silence we ate in the kitchen,
I took my napkin from the silver ring that bore my name,
my mother helped us to food while Laura who had cooked it
went to sit in a chair in another room. My father
always thanked her as we left the table.
Laura and I sat long afternoons without talking.
I heard her few words as a harsh foreign language.
But the afternoon I found her in the front room,
sprawled and drunk on the flowered rug, I heard her
breath rattle through the house to join the others,
the sudden noises made by those partitioned into sorrow,
the weeping of my mother late at night behind a door,
the rush of water she used to drown her bitter sound,
the weeping of my father, drunk at dawn by the window
when he saw the green edge of light on the top of the oaks,
the click of his chair as he rocked and cursed himself,
the sounds made by those who believed they had to stay
while their hearts broke in every room of the house.
Each noon we returned to our places in the kitchen.
For us change came from the outside and brought no good,
like the thunderstorms that swept down north from Birmingham
or the elm blight that cleared town square of trees and left
the stone soldier standing guard alone over my father's fathers,
names written in marble honor on its weathered base.
There we used habit to contain, to outlast despair.
Even in the cemetery where my father's mother,
where my namesake lay, barbed wire ran between the graves,
dividing white folk from the black. It ran between
the women setting lilies on the one side, the women hoeing on the other,
a fence to separate one heap of bare red clay from another.
from Minnie Bruce Pratt,
The Sound of One Fork
(Night Heron Press, 1981),