Two Poems by Allison Joseph

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


Sundown Ghazal

A sundown town was a town, city or neighborhood that was purposely all-white. The term came from signs that were allegedly posted stating that people of color had to leave the town by sundown. They are also sometimes known as “sunset towns” or “gray towns.” The highest proportion of confirmed sundown towns were in the state of Illinois — Wikipedia


Don’t show your face in a sundown town,
or forget your race in a sundown town.

What ancient shame flushes my cheeks?
Reminded of my place in a sundown town.

“How’d you get so good-looking?” said with a wink.
Old white man loves my grace in a sundown town.

Lost in a neighborhood where dogs snap chains,
my body’s a dark space in a sundown town.

Shotguns, gun racks, Dixie stickers, rusted trucks.
Should I stray, armed with mace, in a sundown town?

Crimes thrive in black, white, every grade between.
Are you just another case in a sundown town?

Kink of your hair, curl of your lip,
be careful who you embrace in a sundown town.

State police, city cops, small-town hired hands.
All give chase in a sundown town.

Burned houses, riddled with junk and meth.
Hatred creeps its petty pace in a sundown town.

Black father, white mother, coffee-colored daughter.
What can love erase in a sundown town?

Rivers, tires, bodies—a confluence that cannot hide.
Hard not to leave a trace in a sundown town.

 

 

Chain

Chain, I don’t love you.
Yes, your links are practical,
a symmetry of efficient

design. But when Aretha
sings “Chain of Fools,”
I think of bad boyfriends

linked together, a bevy
of two-timing cheaters,
ambitionless thieves,

podunk dropouts sneering:
great grills, no teeth.
I’ve tried to fashion chains

myself, wrapping wire
into circles, linking circles
into amateur versions

of what I could just buy
without hammering
my own nails. Chains

make you a slave, I think,
recalling shackles in museums,
bald history of cruelty

less haunting without sign
of the bones they bound,
wrists and ankles ghostly

here, scrapes against skin,
invisible screams muted
to this echo chained

in my nervous system,
this haunting, this shiver,
this liberty that tastes of metal.


Allison Joseph lives, writes, and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where she's on the creative writing faculty of Southern Illinois University. Her latest book is My Father's Kites (Steel Toe Books). Her chapbook, Trace Particles, is forthcoming from Backbone Press.

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