“White Privilege Skydives with Black Guy in Appalachia” by Mary Meadows

Mary Meadows


While escaping Hillbilly Days in Eastern Kentucky
I learn “tandem jump,” and, years later, “Shibboleth”

We sit at the fold-out tables in a gray room at the airport
on the hill, where the coal mine barons store their private jets
and fly to places that aren’t “locked”
And they       tell us to watch a video about the buckles
on our suits, how to pop our ears while falling
and lift our legs high enough
              so our butts
sandpaper the ground.
                     Don’t land       on your feet,
but if you do, try to walk it out. It’s best
to ass-
       bump it.
And this       salty blond surfer-looking dude
chews a toothpick, then eyes us down—
(like he’s picking a puppy
       at the pound).
And he        slaps the table with the palm of his hand;
Why the heck—(he smirks)—
why the heck would someone who’s sane
of a perfectly good 
And when we               look at each other—Dude
screams back,               ’Cause,               you fools,
you left the dang door 
And we laugh, and he laughs 
              from his gut,
                        then assigns me to this thin
               and I’m not sure 
                         he’s strong enough to hold me up.
I’ve gained a few pounds 
              and this jumpsuit’s too tight.
So I        try to breathe and smile
at the same time.
And with his hands, he tugs
buckles on my back        
              and near that 
              between my legs. 
And there’s Aunt               Betty, again,
and her finger tick tocks       in front of me,
like we’re swimming at the Breaks and she says I can’t
swing out
       on that rope.
              And I realize I’m twenty-five
and I’ve never been this close to a black person before,
and I think back to grade school and high school 
and—No.        There were none.
In college,       they were the ones
on               ball teams,
but they weren’t 
              in my classes.
Then, I bend over to tie my shoe, and there’s Amy— 
who was        half my age       when she lived next door to my sister
in that trailer park when I was in the fifth 
       or sixth grade.
So, now, I’m at a picnic table—book open—and, we just learned
in school how old Abe
And I know 
happened to them,
but they never               really              explained it. 
And I know they have this other
                            skin, I think,
              from this other
place,               and I know they were beaten and sold,
but I don’t know
And Amy is so cute with her hair
back              like that,       and that sunny smile
and little butterfly 
But she       wants to play, and she’s jumping
on my back and she pulls me 
       from my seat.
And I’m on the ground and she screams,
       jumping up and down above me.
I stand up and sit back down,
and she’s        pecking my shoulders,
       my shirt.
And I just want to do a good job on this test
I’m studying for, so I’m writing all the dates of things
       that happened.
And she won’t stop tug-
                     hugging my neck.
Her finger slips and she scratches 
              my skin.       —And it just
What? Do you 
think I’m a slave,
              or something?
And her face
       —its light—
melts like 
       sun bows to night
on the west side
of the mountain.
And when I see my shoes on the floor in this room,
I remember I never saw her after that because she
And—for a second—I’m that stringy-headed cow,
again, who’s smacked in the head like a dog
while being told You’re mangy.
And I swallow the muck
       and look up—              And that guy
who touched me              tells me I’m Good to go, Girl,
then points to the door where the plane waits
to take
       us up. 
And I feel it resist              that thrust
from the earth.               Then I feel the lift
that starts in my stomach,        then belches in waves
to my brain. 
              And after a while, he tethers me 
       to his body
and I am a key               on a ring
attached to a wire line              that stretches
across the tops of our heads.
              And I look around for the others,
but they’re not there, and I        don’t want to go,
but I feel his legs behind my thighs,
                            push-walking my left,
then my right,              to the door—wide open— 
where wind is cussing
              and I want to say, No
       But it throws a fist       at me, and he says, 
Are you ready? And I want to say Hell        yeah!
or something even better,
                     but all I can muster is Okay
And then this hurricane
              shoves me—and the plane and time
and everything is        gone,
and it’s just cold sky and different shades of green
and their open ’chutes—
                     Plucked petals.
                     From a cup.
And I’m looking through a glass at a painting—Oh my
God!—And then I’m a rock that dives off the edge 
of some        waterfall,
watching everything that splattered
                  I came.
And I keep saying Ohmy       God! And I keep telling myself, This is
And I wonder what God would say of my jumping 
like this. 
       Would I be 
              the fool
or the wiser?
       And a man in a yellow suit with a camera buzzes out
in front of me. Gives me a thumbs up; stretches his mouth wide,
into a smile.
              But I can’t—
                     can’t move my arms or legs
because the wind is fierce 
and it feels like I’m falling, and that push 
is the hand that holds me up—And I don’t want to
He smiles and spreads his arms like wings
and I try to do that, and then I perk up my thumbs.
       But I can’t feel my wrists 
anymore and I don’t know
if I’m              breathing.
Then, there’s this yank, and, now,
I know
       I’m alive, 
and I look down,
       and the painting has leaves and trees
                                   with long brown
       and I see a road where ants drive toy cars
and move sand                            on sidewalks.
And this guy on my back is steering in circles, 
       and I am 
              the hawk.
I lower my beak to watch rabbits, and they dunk 
under bushes, 
                  I am
       the moth.
And they get bigger and closer, and I become
       a thunderstorm
that screams              in the distance,
then sneaks up and pounds
                     on the porch—
until I can’t feel God anymore, but I really want to
because I’m near the base of this drop
and I’m sure it’s full of rocks
and I know I’m gonna hit—
And the trees that were once 
smaller than me
       stretch until they tower
over grass; 
       and I can’t stop watching them reach
for        what I came from,
                     until I bump my rump
       and shake my head and blink
my eyes.
       And this       guy on my back,
who’s, now,              by my side;
reaches over and throws me a high five,
                                   so I
       and put my feet on the ground
to stand up—
       And something 
                      in me
                                    is wailing— 
                     So I
       step back to smile—       And,
       for a second,              it’s like
       we’re alone,              making love,
       and we speak              with our eyes—
       So I wrap him up       like he’s part 
       of my                      breathing.
And when the           others       come,
I step back and fold up his eyes
and I stuff them down—
                            in my pocket,
And he        and I—         we
hold out our hands to show them how not
nervous        we are—       And I—
And I look, again, at this        Black Guy by my side
and I—
I am the ant.
       That fell. 
From a leaf. 

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Mary Meadows: “I can’t go back and change what I said to ‘Amy’ when we were kids, but I hope it brings her solace to know that there’s a part of me that’s hated myself ever since. I think of her sometimes and I worry that this memory haunts her like it haunts me. I hope it doesn’t. I hope she was too young to remember it. And, if not, I hope it was the only time in her life that she ever had to deal with something like that. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I wish I could go back and fix it, but I can’t.”

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