Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Lava Bridge, Hana Coast No. 1.
When did I first see it? In a pool of black, bobbing children
collected in the only swimming pool, desert town, summer,
where the heat hit like an explosion when you opened the door.
What did you do? We left.
When did I first feel it? At 2:30, crammed with other students
at the entrance to the buses. Someone threw a cherry bomb
directly at a crowd. One girl before me howled in pain, her leg
a raw exposure of her vulnerability.
What did you do? I ran to her and held her tight.
What evidence did you have of wide injustice? Every black student that I met
was starched and scrubbed so that their mother’s hands were worn on their faces. Each one
excelled as though only ultimate success was good enough.
I taught. I read. I listened. And I loved.
What mistakes have you made that contributed to the problem? I accepted
the attention that came cheaply, satisfied to be a white girl causing it.
What changed your mind, and your ways? It may have been the teacher that I loved
who took me close into his mind but never violated my trust.
What was the essence of that experience? I learned that one need we all share
is to love and respect ourselves. I learned that you can read this in a person’s eyes.
How did this change you, individually? After error, there can be redemption. I saw
power in the act of recognition.
How did this affect you? An unwanted pregnancy became my reason for being.
What were your main obstacles? My parents feared that we would not be accepted.
What did you decide in response? My son was beautiful; it was the world’s problem to accept.
How have your concerns played out in your personal life? I have watched people grow, sometimes after much distress. All of my children live in a varied and indivisible world.
What can you do, now? Testify and love.
Rae Cobbs is a Californian made into a Kentucky keeper. She has been writing and teaching since she came to Louisville, Kentucky, over half her life ago. Through poetry, she keeps in touch with the physical world, the desert, which she misses, and her own life. Her poems carry the weight of the personal, social, and political changes that are being wrought. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her partner and a house full of four-leggeds. She has twice been a recipient of a grant from The Foundation for Women.