So what did I get from this boy I cared for
as well as I could, and less than he deserved? I wanted
to be wanted, which I thought meant loved.
Full-grown at twelve, I’d been a freak towering over teachers,
out-rebounding the boys I had crushes on. By nineteen
I’d have nibbled praise from anyone’s cupped hands.
But his praise! Bountiful, unabashed
praise for a body shamed, a cherishing
most white boys don’t learn. I guess we invested
in our own kind of social security when we coupled
his Will Smith fade to my Meg Ryan blonde,
which he might have sometimes used
as shorthand for “Don’t ask. I belong.” While I
learned new ways to see dogs, pools, the states
we had to drive through without stopping.
That summer he took me to meet his mom, a teacher
who raised her boys right. Could she tell
how wild I was for his height, his strength
that I never told anyone made me think
of the ’80s sportscaster Jimmy the Greek
and my dad repeating what he said,
that the most athletic players were Black, but they still needed
a smart white quarterback. Shit. I love my dad.
But he said it, I heard it, it’s in me. And nothing I knew
or knew to reach for could help me hold
that hateful memory alongside my boyfriend’s beauty—
his whip-smart word play,
his open face and hands. I didn’t even always see him,
the way the faces of those we love blur in close-up.
Only his curling eyelashes stayed. And, after we graduated,
his silky neck, the scent of it where I pressed my face,
waking on the couch in his parents’ basement,
imagining I’d do anything not to lose this
and young enough to think permanence was a goal I could set.
Though he was never more lost to me
than my own self. At least, as much as I could, I paid attention.
Once, in Chicago, I was ranting because a man
slowed down in the crosswalk—I mean he stared at me
behind the wheel of my F150
slowed down—and my boyfriend said don’t get salty,
he’s just saying no white person can make him move,
and I sat there and listened. I let that sink in.
from Rattle #76, Summer 2022
Erin Redfern: “‘I am a part of all that I have met; / Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades / For ever and for ever when I move.’ Or maybe all we’ve experienced is a sandstorm burying the very artifacts we need to find our way through. A poem is a flag tied to a stake marking a buried clue.” ( web)