Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"My Middle Name"

By Robert Combs

my middle name is Carl
I know why
my dad's middle name is Carl but
he changed it to his first name when
he joined the army
didn't want to be called Wiley
I guess but even he can't explain how
any war could be called civil like
the statues and monuments and plaques
in my town recall

there are paintings in the museums
in the library
in the restaurants
of slaves in the fields black and bent
forever picking cotton smiling and
singing like it was a grand time to be alive even
reproduced on post cards for tourists
(I've seen them in the racks of all the stores)
who come to see the Old South and
where it still lives today dressed up
in antebellum gowns and paraded around
the city auditorium every night for a month
at a time spring and fall keeping the tradition alive

while nothing changes everything changes
our mayor is a black man
a good man
a fair man
an honest man and still
the white people hold their Confederate Pageants
keeping the tradition alive outside
in the humidity old black women dress up like
Aunt Jemima to sell their pralines outside
the city auditorium and on the main streets
keeping the tradition alive at the crossroads

there's a place they once sold slaves
actually traded in human beings harvested
from their homelands like ears of Iowa corn
the commodity market of my town
people and cotton gone now but still signs point the way
like we're proud of our town's legacy and the
plantation porches like it's history we're selling instead

put an end to the tableau
take off the perjured costumes
stop the fine ladies from counting and
re-counting on their colored fingernails their colored friends
like they actually have them over to Sunday brunch among
their inherited gardens of blood and screams
remove the pestilent leer of the politically
corrected tan painted mammy-shaped roadside diner that
will forever remain a huge black happy face tied
up in a red Jim Crow kerchief
with huge black hands holding the serving tray...
'nigger Mammy's' cafe especially
to the bruised memory driving past
in the bruised eye of the children with no escape wondering

is this all we can do today for as surely
as I never owned a slave I know no one
who ever was a slave except my father
named Wiley Carl who changed his name
but not his mind
and not his heart

Robert Combs is a single father living in Natchez, Mississippi. He is a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Did you know that in the old federal court in Jackson (the one with the post office on Capitol Street) there was a mural of slaves playing banjos and eating watermelons? It was covered by a curtain. How's that for pervasive and pernicious?