Also because I really really like this and want to talk about it.
BY T.J. JARRETT
After “M. Degas Teaches Art & Science at Durfee Intermediate School, Detroit, 1942” by Philip Levine
The nun stood by the chalkboard and
wrote the word America, underlined
it twice and asked: What do you see here?
Elizabeth shot up her hand and said:
It is home. My grandmother came
here so that we could live. The nun
asked the rest of the class: Who else came,
and the children shouted their countries
of origin. Except me. I was the only
black girl in the room and I stared off
toward the sea as I often did during
history class already imagining myself
far away from this place. The nun said:
Who else? And the children were quiet
and the nun said: Some came in chains.
They all looked at me, and I turned
my eyes back toward Fort Comfort
and imagined a ship docking there
and the cargo descending to the pier.
Rachel, a serious girl with brown eyes
which always appeared to be at the verge
of overflowing asked: What happened
to the men before us? The nun said:
We killed them, her voice wavering.
She cleared her throat. We killed them,
and she looked each of us in the eye.
I turned my eyes to the sea again, and
I could just make out the figure of
a woman waving to get my attention,
as if she knew me, as if my staring back
across the time, across the water meant
her survival, meant something. And the nun
went on and on about how nothing could
divide us and I wondered how long 400 years is,
how many bodies, how suffering was
multiplied among them, what is forever.