June 18, 2018

Dave Harris

MY TRAIN

I untuck my shirt before I get on the train.
Here the costume begins. It’s a 30-minute
ride from Haverford to 69th street. I make
a mess of my uniform before boarding. I take
my tie off so I look less private school. I am
14. My shirt is 3 sizes too big. Mom bought
it so I had room to grow. White shirt hangs
like a theater curtain. I pay my $2.75 and find
a seat big enough for me and my books. I study
so I don’t have to stay. To ride from suburb to city
is to watch green turn red. Trees become bricks become
my childhood home. I have no words for the other
passengers on the train. The lie: I can fit everywhere.
I study so I can stop wearing my mother’s shirts. I am
my Blackest self when I am running. What was I before?
A boy? An escape rope? An abandoned car? What am I
without this costume? Naked? Skinless? Back there
I got an audience. A classroom. What’s here? An empty
fridge? A family? I can disrobe whiteness as easy as
I rock it. Make that suit work for me. I’m my Blackest self when
I’m my Blackest self in front of white people. They love
that shit so much they give me a scholarship.
A fellowship. A train ticket. It’s only a 30-
minute ride. Vacation to safety. A home
means what, exactly? Each train stop, my body becomes more
rigid. Stiffen into the role. Corpse starched. Niggamortis.
What am I trying to be? A Black man? A mascot? White folk
say I’m so comfortable in my skin. Black folk
say I’m quiet. The truth: I did grow into the shirt. Marvelous
polyester. Bright-eyed pupil. Honeysuckle on a chain
link fence. White folk don’t know it’s a flower. Black folk
don’t need it to be.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018

__________

Dave Harris: “I’m obsessed with performance and audience. The slight and not-so-slight adjustments we make depending on who’s watching. The way I adjust to being in a space that threatens me or being in a space where I am perceived as a threat. Between living in West Philly and attending The Haverford School in the suburbs, I learned how to manipulate expectations to my advantage. I could say that’s a sad thing, woe that I sacrificed individuality, but I also must reconcile how it is that I, born into a Black space, consistently choose to be in white spaces. The never-ending questions of ‘why am I here? what do I desire?’ Education was where it started. The long train ride from my city to my school. Both places of teaching. I think learning is a form of becoming. It’s impossible to walk into a space and not become a product of it. This is not a unique narrative. But it is at odds with what I previously thought ‘The Black Narrative’ was. The idea is that Blackness is supposed to be one thing, and to perform outside of that idea is to perform whiteness. Therefore whiteness is the costume I perform, and not just, simply me. However, both of those ideas are based on racial clichés. When I strip away the costumes, the imported racial expectations, when I recognize my own agency to choose where I put my body and how I dress it, what am I?” (web)

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