Mouse in a Trap by Its Tail
“The more Negroes who register to vote as Democrats in the south, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”
—Kevin Phillips (Nixon’s political strategist), New York Times, 1970
Ulee’s janitorial day is done, but
Miss R runs up in a pleading panic.
“The cafeteria, Ulee. Please, the kitchen girls,
they’ll faint if they see the mess.”
Ulee can’t say no, but this day,
this day he’s promised
to be home to help his son.
Miss R stays in the hall
while Ulee goes to face her horror.
Ulee hasn’t seen before.
The snap that should have snapped a neck
caught only that thin body portion, the end, the tail.
And the flailing, the rattling terror to escape
like a chain-gang jumper, dragging,
who’s hardly got a chance.
But wanton killing isn’t Ulee’s way.
A flick of his thumb gives
freedom, but stunned
the mouse waits as if she can’t cipher the courtesy
of this happenstance.
Ulee’s thinking of other things.
My boy heading for Atlanta
to help ole Maynard Jackson get his chance.
Thank God our one-eyed sheriff devil
can’t patrol past the county line.
Please God, let it be in Atlanta
white people ain’t so mean.
Ulee gives the floored living thing a finger nudge
and feels her tiny beating heart.
He plans to walk his boy
to catch the night bus north. Atlanta
and whatever newer world
he’s hoping for,
whatever he can find
even if it kills him.
Ulee will clean up here, discard the bloody trap,
tell Miss R all is well.
He gives the mouse another nudge.
“Go on,” he says. “Don’t be a fool.
H.G. Wells Investigates the Tragedy of Colour in America
Traveling in ex-Confederate terrain,
the inventor of The Time Machine asks
his white southern hostess to explain:
“How do you see your grandchildren
and the grandchildren of these people living
side by side?”
She goes pale at the very thought
of “side by side,” as he anticipates she will.
Her response is fluttering, deflective, shrewd:
"You have to be one of us to feel this
question at all as it ought to be felt."
The canny Darwinian knows he’s posed
an unanswerable paradox.
The cornerstone of these people’s faith,
their unalterable binary,
ignores history and biology.
The lady’s mother in the hot night deigned
her Big Daddy play his manly game of
genes, but familial plantation love
turned hard when the property ran to debt.
The Englishman pretends to be confused:
“But they’re your kin.”
“And we care for them,” she assures, “as if
our very own children.”
Note: “You have to be one of us…” is quoted from H.G. Wells’ “The Future in America” (1906). The other quotes are paraphrases and interpolations, all from “Chapter XII. The Tragedy of Colour.”