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The Pass-Through

I voice that terminal r when I say
Dang brother was you thirsty?
because I know I want to be black the way
I want to be an architect or gay.
My longings are sincere and touristy.

Your job, remember, is to slide the tray
we’ve loaded with everybody’s empty glasses
onto the belt whose job is to convey
it past the black man whose job is to say
Dang brother was you thirsty? as it passes.

Because I need one, my job is to tell
the story but not too well,
so, for example, I leave out the wall,
the pass-through, and the black hands that were all
you and he would ever see of each other.

I leave out every window that obscures
what it reveals: I leave out sickle-cell,
your passing and the ground that I’ve allowed
to come between us — everything but brother.
I press my freckled nose to its frosted glass.

Sometimes when I think the story aloud
I catch myself relaxing the rs
and flattering my voice that it could pass.

 

 

 

Eric McHenry teaches at Washburn University. His books are Potscrubber Lullabies (Waywiser, 2006), which received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Mommy Daddy Evan Sage (Waywiser, 2011), a collection of children’s poems with woodcuts by Nicholas Garland.

Photo credit: liquid7 via photopin cc

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