Jarrett Neal reflects on the heartbreak and alcoholism that so often attended black men from “the Jim Crow South” in this searing poem.
Perhaps my grandfather was heart broken
From birth. It’s easy to understand how
Black men from the Jim Crow South
Could swap a seat at the head of
The dinner table for any chugging
Locomotive, trade communion wine
For Night Train, recoil at the sight of
White skin. Stay hidden in the box car.
Stay out of Scottsboro. Freedom costs
Everything a man stores within
Flesh and skull. More besides—
The ball he’ll never toss to
His children, his lover’s embrace
In the coldest spring rain.
What I remember most about
Granddaddy is not the mud-caked work
Boots I had to untie and pull off
His feet or the phantoms of cigarette
Smoke that usually coiled about him. I
Remember the booze bottles hidden behind the couch,
Tucked in the hall closet: weapons
More deadly than any shotgun or
Length of rope. He hauled trash
For a living, even brought some of it
Home, yet nothing could make it
Not even life off the rails.
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