06 October 2010

Voices and Soul

5 October 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

My ten year old grandson is as precocious as his father and his grandfather were at his age. He is a sponge for knowledge and is always reading. I found myself reprimanding him recently, the way I reprimanded his father; and I was reprimanded by mine,

"I don't care how late you read, and you really should get some rest, but if you're going to read at 10 at night, turn on more light!"

When I was his age, we had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to do farm/ranch chores before we went to school, so I had a 9:30 p.m. bedtime with a 10 p.m. curfew on reading. I was too often caught and scolded for using my official army green, right angle Boy Scout flashlight while reading under the covers of my bed after the "curfew," sometimes as late as midnight.

I never had the problem of my son reading at midnight, but I expect to with my grandson; especially since I am so involved with his reading list. I'll state here and now, I am not responsible for the Stephen King novels he has; a barely competent story teller, but a terrible writer; my ex is responsible for that. It makes sense to me now why she would expose him to such swill. Whereas during our younger and sexier married life, I would choose Barry Lopez or Durrell for beach reading; she would embarrass me with Stephen King, or that charlatan, Michael Crichton! There's only so much a person can take. Like I said, she is my ex.

My grandson has been showing an interest in the Civil Rights and Anti War movement of the 60's and early 70's. His father has regaled him with some stories of my family's involvement, so when I visited recently, I brought some photos and news clippings from marches, speeches, gatherings and events my family or I had participated in. I want him to know; and also my 6 year old and 8 month old granddaughters to know, when they get old enough; that the family reunions that include haitians and irish, latins and romas, chippewas and jews, czechs and cajuns, greeks and nigerians, and yes, gays and celibates as well, was peculiar to our family 50 years ago; and not the norm; as it seems to them now. I want them to know how much of a struggle it was to simply get a glass of water or use a bathroom if they were not of the correct hue. I want them to know that the simple act of holding hands might have jeopardized their lives in certain parts of this country. Each of us have the artifacts and history that records that struggle and change; from the stories we tell our children or grandchildren as they sit rapt at our knee, to the explanation behind a family photograph at the beach; our lives stand as a testament and a recurring...

History Lesson

I am four in this photograph, standing
on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,
my hands on the flowered hips

of a bright bikini. My toes dig in,
curl around wet sand. The sun cuts
the rippling Gulf in flashes with each

tidal rush. Minnows dart at my feet
glinting like switchblades. I am alone
except for my grandmother, other side

of the camera, telling me how to pose.
It is 1970, two years after they opened
the rest of this beach to us,

forty years since the photograph
where she stood on a narrow plot
of sand marked colored, smiling,

her hands on the flowered hips
of a cotton meal-sack dress.

-- Natasha Trethewey

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