Sestina With a Line From Major Jackson’s Reverse Voyager

I never met your “Mrs. Pearl, a grandmother, a domestic,
thirty years boarding SEPTA early mornings”—
though I grew up in a suburb at the end of the line,
where weekdays old women from North Philly walked
down the block, trudging back up, weary and burned
out, to catch the spasmodic, sluggish “A-Local” to Broad Street,

Poplar, Strawberry Mansion, or Columbia, the street
where after King’s assassination, riots displaced domestic
tranquility, and the neighborhoods burned–
around the time you were born. For weeks, mourning,
displaced minding kids, cooking, cleaning, and walking
the dog. My parents protested the whole system, their line

old-time socialist–even as they moved into the red-lined
suburb, mortgaged a house on a still-unpaved street,
no butcher, baker or barber,  no tailor or tucker in walking
distance. Only unlandscaped lawns grazed by domestic
sheep and mounted red-clad fox hunters on Sunday mornings
and the fall stench of leaves and chopped brush burning.

And next door, my best friend and his maid Edith, Crisco burning
in her pan, delivering up fried chicken we’d line
up for, even as it sizzled. On her break each morning,
Bronze Thrills and Jet and chitchat out in the street
with her compatriots we called maids, domestics,
girls, though they had their own kids, grandkids, walked

their own crooked miles for decades, so we could walk
straight, unimpeded, avoiding the sting and burn
of hard work, recreating a sort of dreamy domestic
living room scene, reifying the Eisenhauer-Kennedy line.
Where Coup de Villes and 98s drifted down our streets,
excursions into unfamiliar territory, on Sunday mornings,

proving and disproving King’s claim that Sunday morning
was the nation’s most segregated time. Side-walk
barrier, barricade, bulwark, rampart, dead-end street,
worlds further riven, as my neighbor’s clothing store burned
in the North Philly riots, losing his whole fall line.
Blessings for Mrs. Pearl, grandmother, domestic.

 

 

 

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