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Editors' Pick

Mommy Loves You. But I Am Not Emmett Till,
and We’ve Never Been to Mississippi

Every day I hear you. Your whispers or sighs follow me
like a lattice of shadows. I guess I’m between here
and there ’cause it’s been Stormy Weather since 1955
and Emmett Till. Some in the family say they saw you
in an old movie clip, and you collapsed over the casket.
Years later you began to get sick. Junie, my baby, where
are you? That’s what mommy keeps yelling. She swears
to God I am only missing. I only walked through the screen
door and didn’t come back, she told the Sheriff. I was
a naughty little boy one day, and just ran away. Of course
that didn’t happen. I never left the house. No officer
ever really came. Mommy doesn’t know that I am taking
care of her, that I refused to put her in the care of some
old folks’ caregiver. For seasons, I pushed her in a wheelchair
to look at Sanford and Son. She coughed and choked on
every giggle. Now, when she does make a bit of sense,
I listen closely. Does she know where I am, exactly where?
It’s not Mississippi, nowhere near the Tallahassee river.
I’m not stuck at any river bank, a cotton-gin fan holding
me down under the water. No, I can’t look.  Maybe I am
lost in some Southern backwoods. Likely only a mile away
from Flat Stone creek, LookOut Tavern, pools of after-rain,
the tracks of Southern Electric. Junie she warns (calling my
name), don’t ever wolf-whistle or look at any white-woman.
I only need to step back through the unlocked door, she
says. God is with me. Still, I can feel the jolting heat, jagged
stalks, trees of flying creepers drawing blood. But I’ll be
okay. A Welcome Home banner hangs in the yard with that
swinging tire. Grits, link sausages on the stove. How can
I make her, right now, look me straight in the eyes, touch
this fresh and bone? Say “Junie, Mommy Loves You?” I am
the only one who can lead her, tenderly, to where her son is.


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