Black and White
by Philip Dacey
St. Louis. The Forties. The neighborhood poor white.
(Or say white trash, given how when the flight
to the suburbs happened muddy lawns greened
all up and down the block, and newly black–owned
homes soon saw their values rocket upward.)
I’m five, playing in the sandbox in our backyard,
when a black child, a boy my age, appears
from out of the alley, sees me, stops and stares.
(Could this be the first such face–to–face
up–close encounter with the other race
for both of us? And how did he come to be there?
His mother a cleaning–woman, and he came with her
until he wandered off, bored watching her dust?)
Suddenly I’m a host and he’s my guest.
I gesture toward the sandbox. “Do you want to play?”
A wary look, then he decides to stay.
Little talk. A shared scoop and pail. To build
together, sand on sand. Holes dug, holes filled.
A brotherhood of work a child can do.
Call it a dream. An oasis in time. Call it true.
Enter Mrs. Blandford — the point of this story —
one yard over, a figure of hysteria
on her back porch, waving her arms as she screams
at the boy to get out and stay out and seems
about to charge down her steps just as he
jumps up and scatters sand and dignity
to escape back into the alley, while I,
all wonder, as if lightning had split a blue sky,
don’t think to say — too young to have such sense —
“Our yards are separated by a fence
and what happens here is not your business,”
but instead sit still, beginning to score the loss
into memory, so that even long decades away
Mrs. Blandford will burn as fiercely as on that day.