Sunday, November 10, 2013

Return To My Mother's land

To my mother's land
I return
a pilgrim at her grave
holy woman
who counseled the grieving
taught the ignut
raised her children
business woman supreme
leader of her tribe
I pray at her grave and talk
whisper softly into the earth

summer heat is gone now
winter in the Valley
train whistle in the night
whistle from childhood
grandmother's house in the projects on Dunn St.
everybody used to live in the projects
teachers preachers janitors nurses
Jim Crow was in the land

tent city across Thorne and Whitesbridge
not far from the Hole in the Wall
where men gather to gamble drink wine fight
Some came up from tent city to mama and dad's office to buy a house
right after WWII
dad was a Race Man from WWI
talked of seeing Marcus Garvey in Los Angeles
Mom and Dad published Fresno Voice, black newspaper
used to sell Fresno Voice on F and Fresno St
maybe when I was five or six
used to sit on Dad's desk watching him set type
had to spell words backward in the old days
Mom and dad used to talk about NAACP
N double ACP he used to say
I probably dreamed of NAACP
heard it so much
wondered what the hell it was
in my childhood mind

Why they keep talkin bout it so much
Dad used to take us to the drive in movie
Stormy Weather I remember
News reel of Palestinians running across a bridge
ain't stopped running since 1948
couldn't figure out why they running

Dad had a gambling problem
especially with other people's money
violated his fiduciary relationship
lost his real estate license
some nigguhs probably wanted to kill him
gambling their money
so we fled to Oakland
he became a florist on 7th street
when 7th Street was booming
Harlem of the West
Pullman Porters
Slim Jenkins Club
Ester's Orbit Room
Lincoln Theatre
Wolf's Records
Dangott's Loan
Scott's Key shop
Jackmon's Florist
Perry's shoeshine stand
Dad took me and Ollie to Perry's
to shine our shoes before church
Dad went to all churches to promote his business
Holy Ghost Methodist Baptist
took us to funeral homes to lay flowers on the dearly departed
terrified me looking at them dead Negroes
gray lookin still stiff cold
maybe he wanted us to get over the fear of death
Mama worked at Naval Supply Center as typist
Grandma came to visit
used to sit in window looking out on 7th Street
see the nigguhs acting a fool she said
country woman checking the city life
used to sit in the window all weekend nights
Negroes clubbing sailors fightin soldiers
fightin over women MPs come
the joint was jumping
Hammond B 3 on the juke box everywhere
blues jazz blues
Mama was Club Scout den mother
had us selling Jet Ebony Pittsburg Courier
Chicago Defender Detroit Black Dispatch
Fresno Nigguhs called me The Weekly Negro
when I came to Fresno for the summer
wearing Jet T shirt
The Weekly Negro Magazine
Jet Negro Bible
If it in Jet it's The Truth.
Prescott Elementary
St. Patrick's
get me outta St. Patrick's
them Nuns ain't gonna beat my hands no more
Take me outta dat old Catholic school mama and daddy, please
Mama said I came home chanting that Latin stuff
Holy Mary Mother of God
God has a mother? Who is God's father?
Did God's father make the sun moon stars earth?

Mama and Daddy broke up and made up
back and forth to Fresno we went
finally Mama left Dad for good
set up her real estate business
single mother with five kids
told them welfare people to go to hell
I didn't like that welfare powered milk no way
but real estate was her business on the surface
it was really a front for her spiritual work
she would counsel her clients,  listen to their problems
guide them on the right path
according to Mary Baker Eddy
no medicine cabinet in our house
know the truth
that's all you need
disease is negative attraction
don't listen to the whisperings of the devil
leads to sickness in the head and body
Mama said
I in my Mama's bizness
wit her new man
wouldn't let her have a life beyond my Dad
had to put me out in my junior year
rented me a room to get me out her bizness
when she was pregnant with her last child
my girl was pregnant with our first son

My mother's people were cotton pickers and grape cutters
from Oklahoma and Arkansas
great grand father was a slave til Lincoln freed him
a leader among men
foreman on a ranch in Madera
died just a year or two before my birth
praised highly in the Fresno Bee
talked about throughout the valley
I am told
was he a friend of Col. Allensworth?
my grandfather was Johnny Murrill
farmer, cotton picker, grape cutter
gambler drunkard
Mama and uncle Stan used to go get grandpa
stuck on stupid in Chinatown
gambling at El Gato Negro
Uncle would go get grandpa
bring him home broke from working hard all week in the field
Grandpa use to take me and my brother to pick cotton, cut grapes
me and my brother had a fight cause he wouldn't wash his hands
before cooking pork chops
grandpa broke us up
I spoke at his funeral
a friend played the flute
Cousin Carol told me to give her a funeral like that
Crack had me when she died
my favorite cousin
I denied her last wish
my the ancestors forgive me
have mercy on me

Fresno is a big city now
freeways traffic jams
full of Mexicans
brothers killing brothers
families with holy names
terrorizing the town
little is left of the black town
they live all over town now
don't come to the old West side
but the Mexicans come
it is their side now
the old Mall is Mexican shops
Mexican food
Mexican Mercados
I like the Mexican shirts with four pockets
not much field work these days
but Mexicans get money from somewhere
we don't wanna say
but they show it on TV.

This valley feeds the world
fruits vegetables of every kind
raisin capital of the world
cotton used to be king
more cotton than Mississippi

I return
peace from the deadly city
relax in the winter sun
await the deathly fog
write into the night.
--Marvin X

from Sweet Tea/Dirty Rice Poems, Black Bird Press, Berkeley, 2014.

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