a literary review
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.
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.
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 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 Dogwood. https://amleahy.com