No amount of hoodoo could convince
me that anything was wrong but the music.
I remember saying: What’s wrong
with this place? Nothing but country.
Still spinning the table-top jukebox,
even though the songs were the same
as the first time around. In Tennessee,
music travels faster than prayers
for a silent god, but no one wants
to hear Stevie Wonder. I was sure
simplicity would change Hank Williams
into Al Green; Curlee, Tennessee,
to Los Angeles. But it couldn’t, any more
than music dampens the smell
of Confederate grease, what my mother
called “Southern-fried anger.”
Or sweat-creased stares that had less
to do with my black father sitting next
to her. More with me, like a blind man
eating peas with a knife. In the old days,
funnels and oil-skin sacks inside white
hoods were the unfulfilled thirsts of dead
Confederate soldiers for the superstitious
here, white sheets the ghost-skin—cold
enough to make a black man leave town
by moonlight. Me saying This place sucks
didn’t help. My mother, dragging me
by my afro, away from the sweetest tea
I’d tasted didn’t help: still no Stevie.
Only an agreed-upon silence in the diner.
Integration is reprinted from The Devil’s Garden (Alice James Books, 2003).
Poem, copyright © 2003 by Adrian Matejka
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse