By Sharan Strange
Creation by means of Sonia Sanchez Winner of the 2000 Barnard New girl Poets Prize
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A spectacle that turns off nonbelievers. Or is it the alley’s sour, alcoholic breath that sends them reeling? We don’t know enough shame to go inside. No, we stand in plain view, pass the chalice, a tambourine, like gypsies, read the spectators, size them up. The ﬁre in us let loose could consume this hell-bent world, this trick ﬂoor we believe in. Instead it rises out of us in song, mushrooming clouds of faith that cling to us like debt and sorrow. I watch you pass—brothers, sisters, with eyes that look scared, hard, closed and mysterious as the heart’s dark rooms.
My sisters cling to each other. They are on the verge of this world, seeing her gone. We all are: family, friends, neighbors, church. The choir wails over their hymnals as the soloist’s strident notes hover. ’’ I clutch a book of poems, turn to the one written for her, and read, over and over, each word. Later, I’ll sift through the box my mother drags from beneath the bed, take the ﬂowered, cotton dress, a safety pin piercing its pocket. A keepsake to soften grief, folded and parceled like a pillow.
You warned us never to stand behind it, so I took its twitching, pointed ears, unblinking eyes, and rooted stance for stubbornness, disregard, connected this to you. Only the whistle and tick of your lungs answered that you were still there, not yet become spirit under my patient gaze. You never betrayed what surely was brokenness, the suffering that consumed you even before it ruined your body. For months you held on, until school ended my vigil and I woke one morning to hear you’d gone. 22 February 19, 1994 In memory of Julia Lucille Collie We’re all in a black line saying good-bye.