Three Poems by Kathy Gilbert

These poems are dedicated to the memory of Luther Freeman, Jr.  (1944-2004)

The Most Integrated Room in the House

Tuscumbia, Alabama 1883

The girls are in the kitchen
Martha age six, Helen age three
playing with scraps from the pie crust
the  cook, Martha’s mother,  is making for dessert.
They knead dough balls to throw after they cut paper dolls
on the porch. Martha’s corkscrew braids and Helen’s blond curls touch.

The girls have sixty kitchen signs.
A language they cooked up between them.
                                            Double hands on the ground means let’s go
                                            hunt for guinea fowl eggs in the long grass.

Hosea Hudson & Birmingham Tankas

In school  ate his shirt-
calico waist grandma made -
nibbled on it, bit holes ;
hungry, didn’t learn to read.
sang Nearer My God To Thee 

Heard Camp Hill shoot out
with sharecropper union dead
Molded Stockham’s gray iron
Left seven shape note quartet
To organize plant workers

Stagger system: rob you blind
Scottsboro Boys’ case
System clear-  Jim Crow, frame up
Lynching. Joined Party, kept date,

Like birthday, special.
Taught blacks, poor whites, how to read
Franchise  exercise.
Targeted unemployment,
War, as people’s enemy

Bull Connor’s umbrage
Forced Hosea’s exile
North for forty years.
Birmingham proclamation
His heroic odyssey.

The 3 Bs

Our first conversations were about steel
Me: Buffalo & Bethlehem
You: Birmingham & Bethlehem
                       The statue of Vulcan
                       Roman god of fire

Luther Sr.  ‘Buster’ had seven sons
                    You were  Jr. called Skip
You told me Buster was the best steel molder
                 In  Birmingham
( With the aside: ‘We called it Bombingham’)

That he was a little man who ate six sandwiches for lunch
In his spare time at the mill he made small cast iron skillets
              For you and your brothers to cook birds
                    He had you shoot with slingshots     

In Greek myth poor Pelops was cooked in a stew
         Demeter ate his shoulder she was   distracted unaware.
         Vulcan’s Greek counterpart fashioned a  prosthesis for the boy
                                 Pindar said that’s all a lie!
Greek gods are not barbarians  who eat their children
                                    They are like you and I 

Bethlehem spewed Buffalo’s sky orange at noon
Workers said it was hotter than hell
Where they made uranium rods for the A bomb
buried the residue in the Tonawandas after the war
Leukemic children were as common as those with the flu

                               What would Pindar say?

A former bus driver and bureaucrat, Kathy Gilbert is now a MFA student in poetry at San Francisco State University.