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337 pages, Hardcover
First published August 28, 2014
I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital
A country caught
Between Black and White.
I am not my sister.
Words from the books curl around each other
make little sense
I read them again
and again, the story
settling into memory. Too slow my teacher says.
Too babyish, the teacher says.
But I don't want to read faster or older or
any way else that might
make the story disappear too quickly from where
inside my brain,
slowly becoming a part of me.
A story I will remember
long after I've read it for the second, third,
tenth, hundredth time.
So the first time my mother goes to New York City
we don’t know to be sad, the weight
of our grandparents’ love like a blanket
with us beneath it,
safe and warm.
We take our food out to her stoop just as the grown-ups
start dancing merengue, the women lifting their long dresses
to show off their fast-moving feet,
the men clapping and yelling,
Baila! Baila! until the living room floor disappears.
Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen.
A Girl Name Jack
Good enough name for me, my father said
the day I was born.
Don’t see why
she can’t have it, too.
But the women said no.
My mother first.
Then each aunt, pulling my pink blanket back
patting the crop of thick curls,
tugging at my new toes,
touching my cheeks.
We won’t have a girl named Jack, my mother said.
You can keep your South, my father says.
The way they treated us down there,
I got your mama out as quick as I could.
Brought her right up here to Ohio.
Told here there's never gonna be a Woodson
that sits in the back of the bus.
Never gonna be a Woodson that has to
Yes sir and No sir white people.
Never gonna be a Woodson made to look down at the ground.
All your kids are stronger than that, my father says.
All you Woodson kids deserve to be
as good as you already are.
Yes sirree, Bob, my father says.
You can keep your South Carolina.
I cannot write a word yet but at three,
I now know that letter J
love the way it curves into a hook
that I carefully top with a straight hat
the way my sister has taught me to do.
Love the sound of the letter and the promise
that one day this will be connected to a full name,
That I will be able to write
Without my sister's hand over mine,
making it do what I cannot yet do.
How amazing these words are that slowly come to me.
How wonderfully on and on they go.
Will the words end, I ask
whenever I remember to.
Nope, my sister says, all of five years old now,
and promising me
“Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen.”