Ms. Marvelyn, my mother’s best friend
asks me to do her a solid…
the next time I’m in Georgia
‘’you and your children used to live there…’’
Anything for the woman
that babysat me each afternoon
snitched on me if I was a minute late
getting home. My second momma.
Only when I was at the vital records
I filled out the paperwork and receded
into the background of the room
wait for my number to be called.
took he information and whispered to many others--
she checked on computer, in file cabinets
in drawers, every place the state allowed
her to look.
Her face—grim, veins showing
each search, stop at a desk
rifling through files. She knew before I did
the technological reality
there were thunderclouds breaking
in her face,
behind her eyes—a Niagara Falls of hurting.
She fumbled with the papers I had given her
playing with her forefinger and thumb.
Those forms meant more than my body knew.
She looked as if she were dying.
‘’I’m sorry sir, but the state of Georgia did not
keep records for African Americans before
1930. Sorry, there is nothing for me to pull up
on the computer. Did she have a family Bible…
…that would be the only source for you now.
You would have to locate the Bible and look
in the front or the back for the birth
and death dates of relatives. I’m so sorry.’’
And she appeared to be. Her mouth, nose
and droopy eyes became one.
But an individual cannot apologize away
atrocity. One person cannot wash away the
sins of an epoch and although she was well-meaning
there was too much to say you’re sorry for.
There was too much to see and deny
that day on the second floor
state owned building.
had to tell her that there were no records
of her birth, but you did mean
loaning me one hundred dollars when
I lost my wallet with a one hundred dollar bill
when I came to visit my mother
two small children holding my hands.
Dennis Reed is a native New Yorker and former member of the infamous poetry group BUD JONES. He was a member of the John Oliver Killens Writing workshop in the nineteen sixties and his early influences include the poet Mervyn Taylor and the artist and poet Fatisha. His work has appeared in Essence, Style, CLA, Black Scholar, Linden Ave. Lit Magazine and many other newspapers and journals. Mr. Reed has taught writing courses at VCU, William and Mary and Morehouse College.