the museum of americana

a literary review

The History Major’s Museum and Dear 1975 — Poetry by Anna Leahy

The History Major’s Museum

 

Circling our kitchen, on tops of cabinets

in which our daily dinner dishes waited,

were figurines my mother had collected

with what she wanted to be empathy,

something that echoed

her response at her childhood dinner table

when Sister Francis said,

in her wimple and merely symbolic apron,

I could never teach a Black child,

and my mother said, But Jesus loved

all the children, and my mother

was sent to her room, knowing

that she was right but not right to say

aloud to the wrong person.

There were Mammy and Uncle Mose, then,

circling the heavens of our kitchen,

red and white and black all over.

Someone’s souvenirs

my mother scooped up from antique store

shelves with her good intentions

of not eliding, of not forgetting

in the face of this nation’s terrible wrong.

These are the faces in the history major’s museum

of racist memorabilia, the kitchen

where she cooked for us

under their plastic and ceramic gaze

that someone had made—and made up—

for themselves, for my mother too, a story

they wanted to hear as if told to them.

And when a friend from college came to visit,

we didn’t notice our friend’s silence

on the sin, she hid it so well

by looking the other way. To step out

of my mother’s intended benevolence

is to call this story white,

to question my mother, myself,

our wrong-headed, wrong-hearted

confusion that we should have undone ourselves

with all that blinding love we thought we had.

 

~~~

 

Dear 1975

In poetry, even discourse about doubts must be cast

in a discourse that cannot be doubted. — Mikhail Bakhtin, 1895-1975

 

Sunday was worth six million dollars.

My grandmother watched All in the Family

 

and The Rookies. I watched Happy Days

and The Rookies. These were happy days

 

of wondrous women and many Thursday men.

On Thursday, men. On Friday, Police Woman.

 

Saturday was always an emergency                         Your nightmares are not nothing.

for lifting babies into the sky,

thousands of orphans, sky-born, sky-bound.

The fall of Saigon was an emergency.                     Your family will not go up in flames.

                                                                                 Your parents will not fall from the sky.

 

I wondered what’s happening—What’s Happening!!

What’s happening is an energy crisis

 

                                                                                 Not all fears are groundless.

 

and dollars enough for six million Sundays

of my grandmother, Columbo, and me.                  You will always have that pain in your chest

                                                                                 when your mother leaves. You will call it love.

 

                                You’re a god of dreads. You’re a god of little joys,

                                a granddaughter as wide as an ocean.

 

~~~

Anna LeahyAnna Leahy is the author of the poetry collections What Happened Was:, Aperture, and Constituents of Matter and the nonfiction book Tumor. Find her poems at Atlanta Review, Poetry, Scientific American, and elsewhere. Her essays won awards from Mississippi Review, Los Angeles Review, Ninth Letter, and Dogwoodhttps://amleahy.com

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