We live in the same small houses in the same small
town, but we don’t step over a ditch to cross to the
other side. Because we fear the day-to-day picking
up of the crumbs from the kitchen table, so we call
each other cracker or nigger. We stick to passionate
feelings, not the mundanities of relationships and
Yet, she is here. Something different …
like a raccoon up a tree in the middle of the day
The woman stands near the street on the other side
of our ditch, and my father stands in the yard, and
both look up.
I cannot believe that a raccoon is up our tree with a
leash around its neck
He is out on a branch and says that he would love
the earth. God have mercy, Glorious grace.
As my confusion grows, I take his place.
And here the shift registers sudden change.
You thought, This is going to be hilarious, but it turns
out bad. Yet now we understand. The ditches. They
were both neighborhood boundaries and narrow
bodies of water.
Everyone knows, irony depends on context.
Only a white woman would take a raccoon for a pet.
I am half way, perhaps, between black and white
Somewhere on the spectrum of guilty amnesia in
1976. And later, when I worked for the city, I sang
while digging a ditch.
Well, they try to tease the raccoon down, but each
word is a ladder that will not stay.
‘What you gone do?’ my father asks. The woman
replies, ‘Whatever you want. I don’t care anymore.’
Fatigue will overrule all your love. Trumpet vine
weaves in and out of the fence beside the ditch. If I
allow myself to be influenced by what it does, how
it twists, I can endure.
Depicting ethnic vocal patterns, Understanding
Poetry; they can all be so exhausting.
Even so, go all the way to the end. Hold it there
And then move your sight across the line. I see
Thine eyes O Father are upon us. Your actions seem
clear to us now the woman turned and sluggishly
shuffled, and my father went inside and came back
with his shotgun.
And my breath went out, when he triggered in the
friendly sunshine. Watch for glitches or feelings
inside hold yourself still go through all the motions
but close your mouth. The complementary notion
is losing your voice.
And I watched the woman fall apart, as if entirely
made of phrases salt and wisdom, sway and stumble
far away, I was dead inside.
Bruce Elliot Alford’s debut full-length poetry collection, TERMINAL SWITCHING, was published by Elk River Review Press in 2007. Alford’s work has appeared in African American Review, Comstock Review and elsewhere, including several anthologies. He has also published reviews of contemporary poetry by such authors as Natasha Trethewey, Jake Adam York and Sean Hill.
Alford received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Alabama and was an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of South Alabama from 2007-2011. He currently lives in Hammond, Louisiana. Before working in academia, he was an inner-city missionary, journalist and photographer.