Thursday, February 21, 2008

The History At Home | Snapshots 1 & 2

Snapshots: Over the next few days, I aim to take some snapshots from the house in which I grew up. I want to remember some of the people who walked through my personal Black History book.

Byrd

will not let me videotape him
in a golf shirt. mischief punches
through his wide irises. i wait for
the immaculately tailored
navy blue wool blazer. enough to strain
a heavyweight champion. if he loses
another pound he will wink

out of existence. privacy.
image. decorum is
precious. Faberge egg,
he is, an antique hidden
in a private collection. history.
no one dares to talk
about in polite company.

as if the FBI still waits for one slip
up to jail a seventy-five year old man.
as if white robes still ache to use
him like a christmas ornament.
as if these stories - quiet under his skin
these aneurysms of right action -

could burst the work
of a lifetime. memories
his youth like black dots
in newsprint. everyone was
organised. nothing wasted. nothing
disposable. not even human lives.

organising marches. orderly, solemn,
slick and grand affairs. “Miz Bud's Black Flower
Arranging Committee made corsages
for the marshals. Agnes BonTemps cooked
chicken. all those pretty brown-skin
church girls served the front guard.” distractions
for police. "Militants." he laughs.
shouts, "See? We got everyone involved!"

he drags a quivering finger across a neck
brittle as old newspaper. witness his
impetuous calculation. frail
thin throat. won't speak
until I stop rolling tape.
"You have to remember, militants

spend too much time thinking
about blowing stuff up." he leans
into confidence, "So, we had them
do that on the other
side of town. kept the police
occupied so the marchers could get
through.” his whisper,
a melancholy vault opens,
“What we forgot to tell you,
young people, when it comes
to justice, everyone is a tool."

Just The Facts - Even Here

hovering wife
one bed.
a chair.
tubes.
flowers.
cards.
books.
old lawyers.
same age.
laugh

at young scholars.
how they analyse
photograph albums,
frayed clippings;
spend paper
on theories

about young men
rebelling in suits,
hats, tight shoes,
and ties at a March

On Washington. How
they’ll never feel
that able voice
silence the full
bladder,
parched throat and
complaining blistered feet.

old lawyers
groan about 14 year old
girls racing through
their homes. cacophony
that music! the phone!
the beeping computer!
says the one in bed.
the wife glances towards them,
smiles. chats with the nurse.
You will survive this, counsellor.
is the reply from the chair.
One day, the noise will visit and go home.
He would know. His granddaughter
is the same age as the other's daughter.

In a room relieved
of nurse and wife,
the arduous duty of good
cheer is no longer required.
Two lawyers silently
review the case at hand.
Counsellor?
Yes, Counsellor?
I want you to be my pall bearer.
Damned right I ‘m going to be.

And then, they rest.


The above poems are about a Pittsburgh civil rights icon, Byrd Brown. He was the son of Homer S. Brown and Wilheminia “Billie” Brown. Homer Brown is often referred to as “the father of firsts” - most notably the first African-American to be Allegheny County Judge. In spite of or because of this, Byrd found a way to both follow in his father’s footsteps and make his own life.

Byrd’s parents Homer S. Brown and Wilheminia “Billie” Brown welcomed my father to Pittsburgh. The same age, both young attorneys had very different personalities. Whereas Byrd was a dashing, flamboyant dresser, my father was quiet and conservative. Byrd enjoyed the bachelor’s life, my father was ready to settle down. And still, they became great friends and comrades.

I remember their honesty with each other, subtle jibes and a kinship only opposites can enjoy. They always referred to each other as “counsellor.” To me this symbolised the incredible depth of their relationship as peers, comrades, professionals and friends.

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