I Am the Man
By Kevin Brown
I see a story, an online video about people who live on a dollar a day;
no distended bellies, no ad for African aid, these black faces are attached to black bodies
with biceps that swell, black ink tells a story all my education can’t help me interpret,
the only hunger here self-imposed as a means to end a contemporary slavery we don’t discuss
because their skin tone doesn’t match the flesh-colored crayon teachers gave me when I was a child.
More than a decade ago, I taught Thoreau’s Resistance to Civil Government
as a Fight the Man manifesto, told them of the time I stopped paying taxes
to protest a war where we killed people whose skin tone doesn’t match
the flesh-colored crayon teachers gave me when I was a child, kept part of my paycheck as protest.
But I had to tell them the truth, how I followed my friends’ advice and paid to avoid prison,
but I still called on them to question their convictions, conscientiously object when necessary.
A woman slightly older than her classmates, with a past she slid into her poetry
so we could pretend we understood her, asked politely if I had ever been in jail.
I could have told her professors don’t go to prison, that police officers speak politely
when they pull me over, call me sir and give me a citation, at worst. But she knew that,
everyone in the room—especially the one young man who had been pulled over
on September 11 for being black—knew that, so I said,
No, I haven’t.
She replied quietly, as if she didn’t want the woman she once was to overhear her,
It’s not a nice place.
I could end with an image of how human we all are, or I could leave the scene
so you can judge me, tell yourself what you would have done, will do;
maybe make a metaphorical leap to convict your conscience, show your lack of action,
but life isn’t tidy,
neither is poetry,
and sometimes we just don’t know what to do.