that liquor alone. My prayer
sweat through the paper bag
of my unc’s skin. He felt damp
as I’d sit on his thigh, watch him
turn up a whole bottle of sky,
swallow it neat
& breathe out lightning.
He’d say, this here’s my medicine
& I’d smile ’cause we caught storms
if he grew ill. Most days, we’d watch
the neighborhood turn colors,
shift its shadows till dusk
brought on the deep Blues.
Like a griot, he’d belly up to the keys
& say, hear me spill an echo
of ancestors across the night’s muddy knees.
Said his music was bamboula
& crow & sugarcane & an ocean
of liquor-spiced sweat, conjuring
one question: Why aren’t my loves unchained?
Said he wasn’t thirsty
for salvation. Shit, he swore Jesus Christ
himself hopped down left
two tears in his bucket & said, mother
You come up when you’re good & ready.
I still hear his dying wish:
One more & I’ll smile these golds
before the pearly gates!
In his jazz funeral, I caught
a single tear from the sky,
felt he was near, wetting each brow
with amen. The brass band trilled,
When I die you better Second line. Oh lord,
you better Second line & I knew
what made those handkerchiefs fly
like little white doves
drunk on the bass drum’s bellow.
we don’t bury our dead
he once said,
’cause our blood is still at play.
About This Unit: Poems on Family and Finding Other Lines of Symmetry
BERNARDO WADE is a writer/artist from New Orleans, LA. He tries at poems & rides his bike around Bloomington, IN, because IU funds his present period of studying with others. He is a Watering Hole Fellow. He also moonlights as an equity and justice advocate. He has work published or forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, New Orleans Review, Southern Humanities Review, Salt Hill Journal, Knight's Library Magazine, and others.