(cited in BAE 2015, 2016, 2020, 2022); PUSHCART poetry finalist

precinct #2

the stale smell of adolescence lingers still in the varnished wood floors and bleachers of my high school gymnasium. Memories aged fifty years now are just that: faded but not gone, like a scar from an ancient wound or the sting of a racist slight. Only on election days do we come here, only to vote. As we walk the halls of this strangely familiar white space, childhood memories add weight to my chocolate brown shoulders. My wife carries no memories specific to this building or my experience being Black amidst that sea of white. she came of age a world away white. Yet ever and always, I feel her leaning into my blackness.

            There is no line at precinct two, which promises we will be quick at our task. Elderly poll worker women volunteering their whiteness are positioned before and after the voting booths like pallid punctuation. My street address, then my name, is confirmed and checked off on the list. While the perfunctory ritual of the moment occupies my attention—and the voyeur within me looks upside down to see if my neighbors have voted—my wife submits to the same address and name, checking, but not before the woman volunteers her wonder at the “coincidence” that we’re listed at the same address. The stupor of her calcified presumption is shaken only after my wife sets her straight: “…a married couple residing at the same address has never been a coincidence.”             In a blink, the disbelief that was her expression scrolls to revulsion, then indignation. She fumbles to conceal what her ignorance just exposed and how narrow her long life in white skin has been. We proceed toward the voting booths, where our blood will boil. Coincidence Woman is not on the ballot. We will not write her in. We cannot write her out of the history of our present. I use the pen the Freedom Riders gave me to mark the names that I think will do the most good or the least harm. As we exit, a Black voter enters. A splash of hope is dashed as she averts my acknowledgment. They may have suppressed her spirit, but they have not suppressed her vote. No small comfort on a day never intended for us.

David W. Janey is a part-time poet, full-time higher education administrator, and long-time observer of details large and small, seen and unseen. His interests range across topics related to revisited recollections, social justice, resilience, and matters of the heart. His day job at Boston University is about helping students pay tuition. He lives south of the city with his wife and two cats, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. David has been writing poems most of his life, and his work was recently published for the first time in a prior edition of the Solstice Features Blog.

1 Comment

  1. Toby Elrod

    David beautifully written.

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