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ROBIN SMALL-McCARTHY
Poems


THE PASSENGER SEATED NEXT TO ME ON THE PLANE

I remember now
The face that still haunts me
The look that passed over the face
Ever so briefly
Like a cloud temporarily
Shadowing the sun
I remember now
The mouth
The eyes
Of the passenger on the plane
Sitting next to me
After I told him
How much I loved this city
How at home I feel in this city
It was the look of the interviewer
At the technical college
Only with kindness
A look of sympathy
With heart
He reached into his pocket
For something to give me
For luck
An amulet
A tiny pin
Like a cuff link
Blue
With a golden star at the center
He asked me what it looked like to me
I said
The sun
He said
Light
The energy of light
For power
For energy
For luck
I still say then
The sun
Ever with me
Always with me
Even on the coldest day
Even in the night
Even when the cold day is done
Even at the baggage claim
Alone
When my fellow passenger
Walked away from me
When I became too mouthy
When I had said to him
That I found many of the women here
To be codependent, catty, and controlling
He looked at me again
Over his face passed the brief flash of horror
The kindness gone
Replaced by a palpable coldness in his eyes
The face of support
Now the face of disdain
Nothing left to do then
But to collect our baggage
And go our separate ways
Never to meet again
Still
The first face of concern
That day on the plane
Remains
With me
As does the pin
As does the sun
As does the sudden pain of rejection
Even as the cold day is done
Light remains

As does the pin
As does the sun

*************************************

I REMEMBER
Part 1

I remember
Marching in the streets
Against U.S. involvement
In Nicaragua
El Salvador
South Africa
 
I remember
Celebrating in the streets
The uprising of the schoolchildren
Of Soweto
In the 70’s
 
I remember
Babcock ice cream
Sold in the Student Union
Abundant and cheap
I remember
I remember
I remember
 
I remember being with my love
All morning
The two of us
Shielded by Bob Marley's redemption songs and
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's
Dreams of Joni Mitchell's
Woodstock
Oblivious
To all the turmoil in the world and
On campus
Oblivious
To the dangerousness of
The differences of
The colors of
Our hot sweaty skins
Oblivious to the snide whispers
The sneers
Kept well-hidden beneath
The beer kegs
The beer-soaked brats
The rock and roll
The chicken dance
The polka as we
Rolled out the barrel and
Forgot
That our kind of loving was
Illegal
 
I remember friends
I remember the spirit of tolerance on campus
That often bordered on true acceptance
I remember
All those rare moments
When we enjoyed the concerts
Enjoyed the clubs
Enjoyed the football games
Enjoyed the summer music festivals
Just long enough
To let down our defenses
Let down our guards and
Just have some fun
 
I remember the quiet but deadly
Undercurrent of racism on campus
Erupting
In the form of random fighting
Rumors of a fried chicken and watermelon room
At a so-called multicultural frat party
Erupting
In the form of the caricatured image
Of a Black man
Burned in effigy
On fraternity row
I remember the uninvited guests
Who crashed our Halloween party
Dancing lewdly and
Pretending to be Black
When they took one look at me
The only Black woman at the party
 
I remember helping to organize
The Global Majority
Students of Color United Against Racism
I remember
Meeting
To air our grievances
Meeting
To plot strategies
Teach-ins, phone trees, and speak-outs
Meeting
To report store keepers and business owners
Who habitually and blatantly
Discriminated against us
 
I remember Donna Shalala

The one brave
University administrator
Who heard our cry
 
I remember Tom Shick
Our dear professor
Of African American Studies
Disappearing
His body found in a frozen lake
His battle for tenure over
I remember wine-soaked
Dinner parties and
Hushed speculation
Was it murder
Was it suicide
Was it an accident
No one will ever know
 
I remember the graduate student
From Saudi Arabia
Who could never
Finish his dissertation
Because each typed letter
Led him farther and farther away
From home
Each nervous breakdown
Bringing us all closer to the truth
That his social criticism and
His White American wife
Were a wedge between him and
His chances of ever going home again
Alive
 
I grew up here
In this city of the lakes
 
I remember protesting injustice
I remember dancing after every
Rally, soccer game, and gathering
I remember jazz parties
I remember the love
I remember the South African poet's refrain
This shit has got to stop
I remember
 
I remember this city
Even as I see that
She is gone
 
When did she give up the fight
When did she lose faith in the struggle
When did she stop chanting
El pueblo unido
A mas vera vencido
 
Did she just one day
Roll over and die
 
When did she become a laughable parody
Of herself
 
All remembrances then
Aside
Now is the time
For me to let go
And decide
How to be a keeper of the flame
That still remains
In spite of the cold eyes daring me
Glaring at me
On the streets
In spite of media lies and distortions
Passing for the truth
About the South Side
How to be a keeper of the flame
In spite of in-fighting and divisiveness
Among those of us who know
That there is still work to be done
That this oppressive and ever widening
Gap between the haves and the have-nots
Must somehow be bridged
That yes
My dear South African poet
My old friend
This shit has got to stop
 
The old city of the lakes is dead I see
I am in mourning
Now
I am an interloper
Now
I am a refugee
In culture shock
In search of the holy grail
Of equality
Even as Camelot has
Disappeared in the mist
Forever it seems
and yet
I remember
I remember
I remember


*************************************

I REMEMBER
Part 2


Even the school children
Have sad looks in their eyes
I never thought this day would arrive
 
I remember children laughing
I remember children singing
I remember children playing
I remember
 
They sit on long yellow school buses
Staring out of windows
The hope gone from their young eyes
And I cry
Inside
 
I remember children waiting
I remember children playing
I remember children singing
I remember
 
A teacher walks by
With averted eyes
Harried
Overburdened with books and care
Past the long yellow school bus
With the captive children
The children with the sad eyes
Longing
 
I remember children singing silly songs
A hundred bottles of beer on the wall
A hundred bottles of beer
I remember children playing hand-clapping games
The rhythm of the beat so sweet
I remember love notes being passed
From one giggling seat to another
I remember children hurrying to complete
Their homework
I remember
 
Now
From my seat on the number five bus
All I can see are the sad eyes of tired children
On the long yellow school bus
In these sad times
Seldom smiling
In the fall of the year 
Of our economic demise


 
Robin Small-McCarthy is a New York City poet who is also the founder of Kairos Poetry Cafe. The author of Love During Wartime, Robin's poetry and prose has been widely published in print, online, and in the recording studio. A peace activist at heart as well as an accomplished performer, theatre director, and educator--Robin is an English instructor who teaches writing, speech, and drama at Technical Career Institutes. 

 



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