Giving Thanks for Water

by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Before moving to Oklahoma, I read up
on the riots in Tulsa and was shocked.
I had thought they only did things like that down home,
back in the Deep South. I guess I was wrong.

Ugliness is an obsession of mine
and I read the news on 1921
as if that year wasn’t gone,
disappeared in backward smoke,

and those judges weren’t waiting
for the last witnesses, stubborn old folk,
to die and take their goddamned
memories with them:

Dick and Sarah black shoeshine man
white elevator woman I heard tell he grabbed
her did he grab her white grabbed her
woman molotov cocktails

dropped black burned to Sodom’s ash
man dozens bodies stacked
up hundreds unmarked graves
thousands I heard tell

Around this city, skirting the edge,
I see a few trees—at last—in shy clumps.
I’m driving past Tulsa,
headed for home.

What I know now vindicates—
a bit—my beloved South.
This morning, I took a shower
and gave thanks for water,

for the cleanliness next to my skin.
One of the girls of Little Africa
hid in a pigpen and lived
through Black Wall Street burning

Thank God for swine, filth, Noah’s rain,
for memory’s long-lived, pointing finger.