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 Radicalized 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.