Relying On The Significance Of Sunburn
At the water's edge he held his face
just above the surface, hunted for a fish
hungry or greedy enough to slip
the bait into its mouth.
I held the worm we'd plucked
from the soil that morning,
struggled with it as it curved away from the hook.
Crouched there, my son, nearly seven, caught
a glimpse of his face mirrored in the murky water,
and announced he wanted to be
white, like me.
Having spoken his peace,
he bowed closer to the water, left me
wrestling with a night crawler.
Though I'd rehearsed responses
I'd clipped from Ebony
beside the lake that day,
my grandfather's words barreled
through my head,
All we gotta do is be white and die,
the rest is optional.
I heard myself say something
about the perils of fair skin;
the blisters I'd born on my shoulders
as a child, the long nights after the sun,
left too long to its own devices, had seared
my skin, turned into a poison
that bled across my body.
I praised his dark skin as a shield
against a burn that bad.
It was something that my mother
might've said, the kind of simple logic
that had always made me squirm.
But if it wasn't enough for him, he didn't say,
he just crouched there waiting
for his fishing pole.
Specks of soil rained onto my
reddening forearm as the worm
twisted away, writhed for a moment
above the small blue veins tucked
into the bend of my wrist.