The past is clean

There was only one black man
in our white county, and though 
we knew that Selma and Johannesburg
were a universe away (and that we were not
oppressed beyond class and sex) none of us knew
the loneliness or caution of his life.
The notion that one may need to flee
at a given moment.

Our past was clean,
even our parents didn't know 
of the massacres, deep in the canyons.
It took years to clear up
the misunderstanding, that our ancestors
had not waved farewell and good luck
to Chief Joseph or that men from China
had not simply gone missing, and some-
where their gold waited to be found.

I know my uncle disappeared there,
left my cousins and a note; his brothers
sent to find him. I still don't know
the mystery of that search. 
He came back, packed the kids
and faded into Alaska's coast.

Now my father simmers 
in twenty-four years of silence.
No matter, I know now the history,
have hidden his ambiguity
like a third thumb. I have found
that the parallels he sees between
my life and what he imagined is as faulty
as our collected history. Still, like others,
in the barn, I keep a canvas bag that holds
a can of dried beans, some caked-flour,
and a jar of matches, safe from the rain.


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