For Addie Mae
Have you heard the one about
the shivering lives,
the never to be borne daughters and sons
--Lucille Clifton, “Alabama 9/15/63”
I thought to name a daughter after you,
to throw all tradition to the wind and pay
tribute to what was lost: a white child
with the name of a brown girl killed six years
before I was born. A few letters strung
together as a token gesture, to say:
we are not all that way.
I too was born in Alabama, but in 1969,
and into a white, working-class family that still
bought segregation, into tradition that spit
at Malcolm, into a region that could not see
King’s dream. Years have passed since
you and three other little girls
have been gone, and who remembers?
I thought to name my daughter after you,
to offer a name to the universe as a signal,
as a way to remind us how far we might
travel in only a few years.
But, you see, I have no daughter
and none on the way. There are too many
bombs in churches, men dragging men
behind trucks, obscenities carved into
car hoods to bring a child here.
I thought to name myself fearless.
I thought to stand up shouting.
I think of your sweet round face hidden under bricks and dust.
There must be something that I can offer.
There must be some way to mend.
and every plate is
a metaphor: I remember
which sink in which town
gave me that chip or crack;
the tiny glass cup from my great aunt
given before she died
when she was cleaning out her cabinets,
a perfect size for dipping sauces;
pasta bowls from your sister
that are an eass shape
for black beans with cheese;
forks we stood in the aisles
and compared with every other boxed set.
We never use the silver
from our wedding gifts.
I admire the cups that have
made all fourteen of our moves
with us, the ones we used in college
before we were too snooty
for Tupperware and all things plastic,
and I stack those right beside
the new metal bottles that make us
feel somehow earth-friendly.
When I put away the cake pan,
the one I found for your birthday cake,
I place it more gently than needed
for a metal frame. It has held,
after all, the silly sugar
metaphors of one person’s attempt
to please another.