Live Oak and Riposte XIV by Shauna Morgan Kirlew

Live Oak

My roots run deep,
down into this soil
watered by the salt-spray borne
by my foremothers,
on whose limbs little white boys
climbed and hung their swings.

These heavy boughs,
thick and ligneous, spreading wide
and low enough for a man
to lean, rest his back
and hide behind the curtain
of Spanish moss soft enough
for the wind to murmur,
tell truths that come quietly
sometimes in wispy hushes.

His heritage runs deep too,
bloody tap-root, a bourbon barrel
ablaze, a beam in a dark cabin,
a boy-child without a likeness,
a resurrection fern,
fronds wrapped and waiting.


Riposte XIV: The [new] administration of justice and description of the laws
          after Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia

I do not smile, behave, show fear, or shake.
I do not keep my hands on the wheel or look straight ahead.
I let them wait              for       my       answer.
             Do you know how fast you were going?
I put my arm on the door, cock my elbow and point it in their direction.
They will kill me anyway.
I set my gaze to theirs, one pale face at a time.
I wait.

If any free person commit an offence against the commonwealth,
if it be below the degree of felony,
he is bound by a justice to appear before their court,
to answer it on indictment or information.

They will kill us anyway.
We are not free.

I do not conjure up tears.
I do not loosen the top buttons on my blouse.
I do not stay in my seat,
or call them sir or ma’am.
I do not explain.
My wallet is in the trunk.
I do not get back in the car.
I do not submit to their bullshit request.
Let’s see what else you have in the trunk?
I stand with arms folded.
I let them wait for my answer.
They will kill me anyway.

If the criminal be a slave
the trial by [the county court any armed, near-white person]
is final.

I do not move. I do not unfold my arms.
I do not look away.
I do not change my answer.
I do not let my pounding heart move me to a tremble.
I do not cry.
I do not look in the direction of two new flashing lights.
Which one will be the killer today?

We are not free.
We are not safe.
They will kill us anyway.



Shauna Morgan Kirlew‘s poems have been published in Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & CultureAnthology of Appalachian Writers Volume VIInterviewing the CaribbeanThe Pierian, and elsewhere. She lives in Virginia and teaches Literature of the African Diaspora at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

This is part 7 in the series Fallen at Charleston, guest-edited by Brenda Marie Osbey.

Fallen at Charleston

How We Could Have Lived or Died This Way” by Martín Espada

Notes on the State of Virginia, III” by Safiya Sinclair

What a Fellowship” by Afaa Michael Weaver

Black 101” by Frank X Walker

“Black Bird” by Terrance Hayes

“Live Oak” and “Riposte XIV” by Shauna Morgan Kirlew

Fallen at Charleston” by Brenda Marie Osbey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *