Our last summer in Virginia
In the stale air family room you wept in front of me
like a man who’d waited his whole life
to weep about being a man.
The state of Louisiana could’ve killed you. The story goes
you were born and mistaken for a white baby, though
blackness was at your ears humming its sour saccharine song.
The story goes you were born in you church-home, given the names
of a small man and a prophet. The story goes your grandmother crossed
the train tracks weekly to visit her white sister. We discovered this together,
that you were born on the edge of the plantation where your grandmother was born,
out of the worst violence. You were born and your father left
to drink himself into not being your father (you tried this too).
And what of desire in that place?
Saturday nights your mother would kiss a woman
who played a guitar like a man, and they would sing, and
you and your brothers would sing with them from your pallet on the floor.
The story goes what you spoke couldn’t be called English.
That in your one-room all black school the rule was
April through June you would pick strawberries
for the sweet tooth of white folks in the city; you remember this, you were seven.
The story goes that if you had to see a doctor it was the horse doctor.
Your family raised the strongest animals.
Nanette, your cow, was sold and saved a white man’s business.
The story goes you and your brother were always beautiful
and in the business of whistling and running.
Listen, you were dying and trying to tell me how you narrowly survived,
how it hurt, this miracle of living so long so close to the land.
Who did I think you were then— frail and with a plate of blueberries in your lap?
Your last story began with the phrase: “Black People Are The Champions Of The World!”,
and ended with you in the Army wrestling a man
because he was so handsome. You were dying and still
filled with desire, what did you expect me to do with that?
Taylor Johnson is proud of being from Washington, DC. They’ve received fellowships and scholarships from Callaloo, Cave Canem, Lambda Literary, Millay Colony, Yaddo, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Vermont Studio Center, among other organizations. Their work recently appears in spacecraftprojects, Tin House, Indiana Review, Scalawag, and elsewhere. In 2017, they received the Larry Neal Writers’ award from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.