Addie, Carole, Cynthia, Denise
Amen, Alabama. Bring in the Dixie sun, cover us in the delicate, glassy sunshine erupting all over. Find us, fevered, in the glen, Jones Valley. Have you seen the churches with windows stained? Infinite steeples, just turn any corner. Do you know how we bleed, like Jesus? Loud vibrato melting the Sunday sky, new mercies exploding, dynamite, over our brown bodies. Pretty little ones, dressed in lace, beneath quivering old ones in hose and hats. Remember how 16th Street shook, symphony of fiery coughs that turned our Birmingham to blood. Under what God’s hand did we die like this? Villains, victors, what did you see? Wa wa watermelon, a chorus of coons, X’s on the eyes, a grim cartoon? Y’all come back now, hear? Zippety do dah till the day you die.
Salat Behind Al’s Mediterranean and American Food
This evening, in Birmingham, when I’m meeting a friend for fried chicken and poetry, you prostrate before God on a piece of cardboard box in the back alley. Beside you, there is a dumpster whispering styrofoam and onion skins. The shells of dead cockroaches bend and crackle under your knees. Even they pray. The backdoor of the restaurant and the towering University Parking Deck shelter you in shadow. Fifteen minutes from now, you will bring me cheap fries and fingers, and when you ask me if I’d like ketchup, your accent heavy as oil, it sounds like a proverb— clean tomato, sovereign God.
George Wallace Stands in the Schoolhouse Door -June 11, 1963
Between the thighs of the doorway, you are powerful. The confetti of camera clicks and your smart business suit and the swamp of teenaged protesters swaddle you with sweat. June in Alabama is rife with heat. Important men from Washington have come to clear you out. Tension, thick and bitter as a watermelon rind. From the doorway, you see Vivian and James waiting in the government car. They wish to register here. From the doorway, you see walls and waves of ballot-faced whites. They are checkmarks in the next election. It is only after your speech is delivered that you realize how thirsty you are— your cottonmouth is unbecoming for a state leader. How nice it would be to sit on your porch with Lurleen and a glass of sweet tea. How nice it would be to get out of this heat and out of Tuscaloosa and back to marbled Montgomery and its halls that echo— obedient, loud, and white.
Ashley M. Jones earned an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University, where she was a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Fellow. Her work has been published in various journals nationwide, and she was a 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award Recipient. Her debut collection, Magic City Gospel is forthcoming from Hub City Press in 2017. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama, where she teaches creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.