Fast Animal Excerpt
Like a river at night, her hair—
the sky starless, streetlights
glossing the full dark of it:
Was she Jewish? I was seventeen,
an “Afro-American” senior
transferred to a suburban school
that held just a few of us.
And she had light-brown eyes
and tight tube tops and skin
white enough to read by
in a dim room. It was impossible
not to be curious.
Me and my boy, Terry, talked about
“pink babes” sometimes: we watched
I Dream of Jeannie and could see Barbara
Eden—in her skimpy finery—lounging
on our very own lonely sofas.
We wondered what white girls were
really like, as if they’d been raised
by the freckled light of the moon.
I can’t remember Allison’s voice
but the loud tap of her strapless heels
clacking down the halls is still clear.
Autumn, 1972: Race was the elephant
sitting on everybody. Even
as a teenager, I took the weight
as part of the weather, a sort of heavy
humidity felt inside and in the streets.
One day, once upon a time, she laughed
with me in the cafeteria—something
about the Tater Tots, I guess,
or the electric-blue Jell-O. Usually,
it was just some of us displaced brothers
talkin’ noise, actin’ crazy, so she
caught all of us way off-guard. Then,
after school, I waved and she smiled
and the sun was out—that 3 o’clock,
after-school sun rubbing the sidewalk
with the shadows of trees—
and while the wind pitched the last
of September, we started talking
and the dry leaves shook and sizzled.
In so many ways, I was still a child,
though I wore my seventeen years
like a matador’s cape.
The monsters that murdered
Emmett Till—were they everywhere?
I didn’t know. I didn’t know enough
to worry enough about the story
white people kept trying to tell.
And, given the thing that America is,
maybe sometimes such stupidity works
for the good. Occasionally,
History offers a reprieve, everything
leading up to a particular moment
suddenly declared a mistrial:
so I’m a black boy suddenly
walking the Jenkintown streets
with a white girl—so ridiculously
conspicuous we must’ve been
invisible. I remember her mother
not being home and cold Coca Cola
in plastic cups and the delicious
length of Allison’s tongue and
we knew, without saying anything,
we were kissing the color line
goodbye and on and on for an hour
we kissed, hardly breathing, the light almost
blinding whenever we unclosed our eyes—
as if we had discovered the dreaming door
to a different country and were walking
out as if we could actually
walk the glare we’d been
born into: as if my hand
on her knee, her hand
on my hand, my hand
in her hair, her mouth
on my mouth opened
and opened and opened