WHITE PRIVILEGE SKYDIVES WITH BLACK GUY IN APPALACHIA
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
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
’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
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
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
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,
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
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,
And her face
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
again, who’s smacked in the head like a dog
while being told
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
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,
But it throws a fist at me, and he says,
Are you ready? And I want to say
or something even better,
but all I can muster is
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—
From a cup.
And I’m looking through a glass at a painting—
God!—And then I’m a rock that dives off the edge
of some waterfall,
watching everything that splattered
And I keep saying
Ohmy God! And I keep telling myself, This is
And I wonder what God would say of my jumping
Would I be
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,
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
I lower my beak to watch rabbits, and they dunk
And they get bigger and closer, and I become
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
and I can’t stop watching them reach
for what I came from,
until I bump my rump
and shake my head and blink
this guy on my back,
now, by my side;
reaches over and throws me a high five,
and put my feet on the ground
to stand up—
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
I am the ant.
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.”