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Out of the coatroom one winter morning
when I came in last to class, having forgotten
to take off my little tam, and took in my classmates’
wave of laughter and felt amusing and accepted
as I sat in my seat up front near the teacher’s desk
with the bell she tapped for order, George Washington
above us on the wall in that room where I learned
to follow the rules and was chastised for straying
outside the lines, there, in Peabody Elementary School
is the first grade where I enter still and still see,
on the first day, two boys with skin darker than mine
and I think them extraordinary and beautiful,
the boy with curlier hair and light brown skin
over by the windows and Roland, who was darker,
with short cut hair, whose name I’ve carried all these years,
in one of the middle rows—Roland, my steadfast partner,
the tacit way we would each choose the other
when our turn came to lead the line, a known bond
even the teacher recognized that gave me pride
and an inner warmth that we were somehow special
in our choosing. So was it a dream the warm spring day
Roland and his mother came walking down Rutland Street
across from our rented clapboard house, he and I
jumping up and down, each waving in excitement
to see the other, and my mother, stony
and expressionless behind our picket fence
while his mother grabbed him a little more tightly
as she hurried them along down the concrete walk.
Copyright 2022 Terry Blackhawk
Terry Blackhawk is the author of many books including One Less River (Mayapple, 2019).
Photograph by Ewa Ahlin / Getty
Oh I remember those days. Those days when my reporter dad brought home African dignitaries to our modest home in Altadena, California because the big LA hotels were suddenly full
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Thank you so much, Maura. The mothers’ reactions are essential to my memory of Roland and reflect so much on those times. My mother was usually very outgoing and eager to meet new people, but not in this instance obviously, which must be why it has stayed with me.
Extraordinary and beautiful indeed.
It’s out there, Michael! Thank you so much! And on MLK weekend, too, which makes it even more special.
I love the photo of the children’s hands…didn’t see the video on FB — it’s here on my email — but I enjoyed it earlier this year. What an amazing couple.
My iphone charger has been giving me the blues, so I feel lucky to have squeaked it in (or out) before losing power. I only do social media on my phone!
Have a lovely day in Pittsburgh! It’s sunny here as well in Connecticut.
Power to the people!
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Thanks, Terry. Yes, I thought this poem would be appropriate the day before MLK day. Thank you for all you do and have done for peace, justice and poetry.
This is sad on so many levels. What strikes me beyond the obvious is the reaction of the mothers. The mothers as carriers and enforcers of social norms if the day, both afraid of many things, judging by the reactions described.
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