PRESTON BURNS : life unlimited 
the fictional blog of a college freshman

 

"Fire and Water" by Michael Chin

I sit in a wicker chair
on this front porch
suburban America .
Fresh-lit cigarette dangles from lips
As I watch the rain
flood the world beyond my overhang.
I have a moat in the driveway
just before the steps
where the blacktop drops
uneven for as long as I've lived here.

Cars splash by
Windows fogged over.
Recall early high school
sitting on the bus, near empty
I was one of the last stops.
I'd press my brown fingertip
To the window, trace a picture
of a fair-skinned face
in the condensation.
Turned my hand to use my cuticle
To work in some of the details—
The curls in her red-brown hair.
Funny I can't even remember her name.
Father told her she couldn't see me.
Was foolish to think it would work then
For all King's speeches
For all the integration
It was theory, all talk
Just ‘cause I wasn't black man
didn't mean I was above anything.

But that was a long time ago.
Married a woman
Skin as dark as my own
Bout our own house
made our own life
gave the children good, American names.

My brother went to live in the City.
Said the quiet life wasn't for him.
Sure as hell wasn't quiet
When the Towers came down.
Fire from above
fire coming down.
My brother told me he cried that day
Tears wetting his cheeks like everyone else's.
Said he lost friends there.
That didn't matter to the men, though.
They said he looked like one of them .
Said he was responsible.
Kicked him to the pavement
Spat on him.

He warned me not to visit him the hospital.
Said the City wasn't safe
For people like us.
I kept my face shaved clean
Went about my business.

Couple years later
The big blackout
Left our town in the dark.
Candles lining windows
Up and down the street.
Days later, was at the store
Heard men talking about it
One asked the other,
“Think it was them sand niggers?”
They saw me there,
Stopped talking.
Followed me with their eyes
until I'd left the store.

My eyes lock
on a black limousine as it pulls up
to the edge of the driveway.
Danny climbs out
scurries toward the house
in his tuxedo.
Smiles and says hello
moving his damp blond hair back
to its proper place.

Inside, I hear my wife
making them pose for pictures
before my daughter says
that they have to go.

My Jennifer leads him out the door
Holding his hand
And waving to me with the other.
She's a princess
Clad in her lilac gown.
Danny lifts her up in his arms
just before her slipper
would hit the moat.
She has the smallest feet in the world.
He sweeps her over that and every other puddle
carrying her all the way to the car.

As the taillights disappear
I can't help wondering if this is a new beginning
or if in twenty years
when they don't recall
each others names
if it'll be his white sons and daughters
who shove my grandchildren to the ground.
But maybe my skepticism
is my own part in the cycle.
I take one last drag
then cast my cigarette
out into the rain.
The fire stays alive for a while
but can't withstand the water for long.

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