Freed Slaves

One thing for sure I like to do is climb right back into bed
after I fly out and remember then I got nobody's worrying to fly out for.
Then in my dress Miss Helen give me on account of her mama's blueberry
pie over the breastbone where I sewed a posie of strips cut from inside
the hem, I tend the garden, all mine. Okra and snap beans swing tight
in sheaths of green over rough silk beet leaves, onions in dirty brittle
petticoats below. All the same, the way they grow. Like folks' sweat
on their bodies and clothes, food, mud, dust, all the same, even now
when I got washing my living and my life. Early on I learned because how
I liked the water and how no matter the dingy gray or dark of the bar,
suds always come out white frothy as acacia blossoms in May.
I thought too it might wash me clean. Miz Clara's poplin tea-and-honey
stripes I got to scrub the back of most, and lay in sun face down,
cause how the front's so faded from her standing long hours at the south
window waiting. Could be I'm waiting, dreaming backwards, trying
to remember what it was I used to dream back then. Expecting it

to show up jubilant at my door. On the washboard I gentle the calicos
from the two Misses Jones before dawn down the bakery
powdering their sleeves with ground wheat, growing plump as potatoes
on dough, only aprons to cover the fraying of their dresses' threads
at the bodice seams. Could be too late to learn to laugh like them.
Could be I'm most like Miz Charity's child keep trying to be born
and not be born, all the soap and soda and sun won't bleach out
the sheet stains that poor little white woman smuggles to me,
three times now in these two years I been here free. She not much more
than a girl herself, not like me. Someday they tell that child, like they told me,
You free now, but who do they mean me to be, who that you they say,
born and raised up not and now supposed to be? One thing
for sure I know is how brown the clear water grows with every press
and ring, that white lather soaked away invisible into cloth, all the dirt
let loose in the basin, unwanted. Evenings I pour it careful
on the roots of my okra, beets, my onions and snap beans.

-Alice Fogel

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