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family reunion, fourth of july, kalamazoo, 1999

tina laughs, hands on belly
crow-black and hard

like her husband didn’t just paint his toenails
red ‘on a dare’ and leave her for another man

rochelle sits cross-legged on ground rocking
back and forth into a sulfur breeze
wrapped in a thin blanket
and her backwoods dreams of peace
bound in a ceremony of missing sons
already begun

firecrackers scatter dust
at her feet, grinning, she tell bobbie ann
‘shut the hell up, trick’
as whistlers pierce air, sing last breath song
pulsing siren goodbyes, finally jumping curb
extinguishing in street

breeze kicks up

children race around us like black dandelions
willowy fingers douse alleyway with inch-worm secrets
hide-go-seek screams reach out
reminding us of other willows and dandelions
in posthumous fields

bobbie ann’s smile spreads wide across her face
like the sahara, she folds all forty-one
years of her life / her famous left hook
her two women into a round planet on her chest
letting no one in
chain smoking the night away

ball up her fist, shake it, tell rochelle
‘das ya mama, ugly’

cigarette smoke settles on my locks like a caul

everything i know about love i learned from them and
seen twisted wrists / noses clotted with blood
their laughter burning a hole in god’s palm

seen tender dark corners their hearts20have held up
like last stands / in waist deep snowdrifts
like the color of rain depended on it/ yes, seen war

bobbie’s son, david, eats up our small town
in desperate lurch at freedom before
he marries nashville preacher daughter

at twenty-two swaying like ypsilanti timber
above us, determined to remain uncut, all his clippings
his two a.m. love-making with men he has forgotten
the names will be swept neatly under a rock

my youngest brother
popeye’s toffee-hued skin has sprouted a garden of tattoos
as if the paper he usta draw on wasn’t enough

i spin when i try to read their indigo treaties
binding his flesh all at once agreements he made with
manhood before i could save him / agreements broken

under night’s charade of falling i see his eyes winking
in and out of view/ stars behind clouds

he sells weed to pay bills and buy special size shirts
to drape his salty mammoth body
he has been hurt by women
clenching and unclenching
his hannibal fists marching against the air
his brow carved into a totem
i know life isn’t kissing him back

at three hundred pounds a piece
he and my nephew jason
are the proverbial town giants
with hands that could swat us down
like african flies but these two, they hug us instead
in the end, no matter
how much the women yell

this july fourth night / we shift positions
chill kisses ankles, we move to warmth
congregate on yvonne’s
yellow porch on south side

produce pomegranate stories from
folds of our clothing and breathe

my daughter’s nine-year old legs
float across hazy lawn in game of tag

she, cousins, neighbors’ kids all chant
what children chant when they are
young lions
and it is summer and an undulation of fireflies
have risen for them
in the crushed sapphire
blue dusk

i always / forget how beautiful
kalamazoo is

again, tina’s crow laughter
piles out of her mouth like mama’s
in the darkness/ thinking she has slipped
in among us, unnoticed
i search for the one who pushed
us into this world, wondering if
she knew it would be like this
black indians in a zoo/ no heritage/ no men

we women / howling

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