Herbert Martin “Our Dearest Abandoned Sister” and 2 more poems
Our Dearest Abandoned Sister:
For: Andrew and Caleb Lee
We know it is late in the day to say we are sorry, in the extreme, that we left you with a stereotypical stepmother. Father would not have listened to us, we were only recently minted adults. What could we have afforded to tell him? He was filled with his own personal grief after mother died. We were up against a wall of staying or saving ourselves. We were of age so we took off like an early freight train going North. It was our chance for a better life, so, together we took it. We went to Chicago, all wind and jazz, all egg yellow and suddenly depressed blue. Such changes were not miracles but punishments like the time someone wrote to us that you had suffered a terrible beating with blood on your face and your hands eaten alive by the lye you were scrubbing with. So much for stepmothers. No one ever spoke to father. How could they? Defenseless manners and politeness was what concerned the neighbors. We heard all of this by word of mouth because neighbors will talk, still we were powerless to come and rescue you. What did we know about the consequence of blood? When father died, you looker safe in your clean mourning clothes. Looks, as the old people used to say, “can be deceiving.”
It certainly was true that second time when we came home to bury father and not so much as a “we’ll-come-back-and-get-you-now-that-father-is-gone.” When the new mother sank into a darkness that her soul could ] discover no exit road, we heard she called for you over and over for forgiveness, but those same silent neighbors took final revenge on her by not telling you until she was dead. She approached death seeking forgiveness and left empty-handed. Now it is our time to seek human forgiveness, for we are now at death’s doorstep, and we hope to hear from you in due time. Please attend to us in our old and feeble Chicago bones. Sadly, for the sister, their epistle went from carrier to home to carrier until their return address had been smudged away, and she had no way, no way at all to find them.
The old customary manners are still intact.
She knows how to greet an entering guest.
That portion of her engaging personality has
Not been erased, in fact it is still in bloom.
She is not as determined as many of the
Blacks of her generation were with: Miss,
and Mr. and “yes mam” and “no mam”.
Nothing of this sort has been inculcated
in her. She is content with the graces she
Still possess, although I hasten to say I am
not so sure she is cognizant of any such things.
Slowly, someone is placing an erasure as
Close to her brain as possible. Every subtly
is being quietly deleted. Soon nothing will,
effectively, remain. It will all be gone,
Never to show its ugly presence again.
An old man has inherited a riddle staff.
He does not know its capacity for questioning,
That it can eat other snakes,
That it can divide seas,
That it can do more than sustain him walking,
Or remember more than he does of his tattered history.
He is not a descendant of Moses;
He has no sense of prophecy;
He has not observed a fiery bush;
Nor its duality to destroy or comfort.
He has been given no commandments
He is ordinary; he knows nothing of the old days
Of leading a lost people wandering in wildernesses.