Good Luck Charm
I saw your mugshot on Washington’s Most Wanted today. Can barely call it a mugshot, really, with your toothy grin, eyes low, deep dimples looking like good luck charms. We haven’t spoken since you ripped me open. You’re smiling like a kindergartner that stole some candy and got away with it.
You always get away with it.
Remember the Homecoming game? Biggest game of the season, and the Bears were undefeated. They needed you. They needed your brawn and sweat and rage funneled just right for their bounty of trophies. The week before, you couldn’t contain the rage anymore. Some kid from O’Dea was talkin smart and woke up in his own blood, his friends scrambled for his teeth, jaw broken as the home that raised you. You flashed your famous gap tooth grin and dipped.
Your sister was braiding my hair when they came for you. I swear your cocky ass was smiling even as they cuffed you. “You got quite the record, kid, and quite the tackle too, my god,” the officer almost beamed at you. You put that trance on people, your charm. Your sister’s fingers sped up, pulled my hair taut and sighed.
“Stupid ass, this time they definitely won’t let him off.”
Your bail was set at $10,000.
You were 16.
It was paid in 45 minutes, tops.
Coach came and got you,
Fed you a real nice meal,
Massaged your sore knuckles & ego,
And sent you off to the field.
They needed you.
They feared you and loved you
Their mothers fawned after you
Their daughters were broken in by you
They bought you
They cheered for you
They needed you.
They abandoned you come season’s end,
They’re probably talking about you right now,
What a shame it is
What a shame you are
“But damn, that boy could tackle.”
There is nothing powerful about trespassing for 400-odd years
But here we are,
Writing words on mistreated trees and calling them true
Tagging broad stripes and bright stars on purloined fabric
Directing lives, fancying ourselves unsung heroes,
Bruised egos and bellies full of shame
There is nothing brave here.
Include in us our pasts –
Which of course, include your pasts too,
All of them lined up like precarious dominoes
Leading you right here,
Leading me right here,
Leading us to believe whatever truths we can stomach
To absolve ourselves of the truest truth –
“No es justo, completamente,”
The mother told me.
Her past is on the land just south of where we squat,
Her present held hostage by ICE and other dangerous acronyms
Her future jailed to all of our pasts –
The two sides: fear and comfort – is there a backdoor?
The misuses of love and blood in veins
The mapping of our bruising and boasting
There is no freedom in power,
Despite what they sell you
Listen: power is in commune.
It’s in the fire escape.
We can climb it together.
On Becoming White
When my grandparents arrived in Chicago
penniless but pale
my grandfather’s hands stroked piano keys to forget how he had gotten here
traded Stars of David for U.S Navy Badge, refugee turned toy soldier.
He could never quite stomach the violence, something about the cracks of gunfire
and black boots hitting too close to his grandmother’s unmarked grave
and so he played.
Slammed ivory fingers to ivory keys to forget how he had gotten here.
Somewhere in the Atlantic are his unanswered letters
back home to Austria, written in his native tongue,
a language he would later bite back
a language my father would never learn.
When asked of his childhood, my father recites 1950’s white fences
Meatloaf, never schnitzel,
He recalls safety, belonging,
running through the segregated streets of Tacoma enclosed with the assurance of his
white-picket fence world
he does not recall labeled drinking fountains
nor Little Rock 9
only the slap of his father’s ruler when he strayed too far from the tracks
what did my grandfather come here for
if not for his sons to sprout in a Free and Just land
so when my grandfather watched TV screens blare images of hoses
gunning down black children
car bombs and lunch counter spit
he would turn it off.
Slip into the static of what hatred could do, gas fumes still dizzying him.
He sat still in the chaos of silence, numb
begging to be lost in the white noise.
This is not a justification poem
This is a let us understand our twisted roots so we can deconstruct that shit poem
I mean damn
my Portuguese great-grandfather, Joseph DiMichaela,
became Joe Michael,
like so many other Ellis Island hopefuls.
“No jews allowed” signage dissolved into exclusionary small business loans only available to
white folks, like my grandfather.
We thought we were American Dreamin
Not realizing it’s just this skin we’re in –
See, the system doesn’t ask if your ancestors owned slaves
Or if you grew up poor
Or if you asked to be born this color
It only asks – and rewards – if you’re white.
Fellow white folk who fancy ourselves radical:
We are not part of any revolution until we revolutionize ourselves
It’s never done
No allyship badges awarded
Dig deep into the undertow of our ancestors
There is so much violence there.
From white hands on black bodies to turning off TV’s
White folk – what TV are you turning off today?
Kayla Blau is a Seattle-based writer, social worker, and explorer. She is a regular contributor to the South Seattle Emerald, and her work can be found in Real Change, Crosscut, Monoweiss, and The Seattle Globalist.
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