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A Level Playing Field

Late 1950s, Atlanta.
Born into the safest middle class.
Dad, graduated from Georgia Tech. 
On the executive track at AT&T.

Just a month old, I got pneumonia.
Parents rushed me to the best hospital 
In the city -- in all of Georgia -- in the whole goddamn South.
Pneumonia kills neonates.
“Save my baby; save my baby!”
What mother hears that cry ungutted?

New drugs, not available to everyone, 
My folks got them for me.

The gift I got at birth wasn’t those drugs (although that was a blessing).
It wasn’t economic security (although that was another).
The gift – which I wish wasn’t a gift – 
Which shouldn’t have ever made a difference –
Was that I was born white.

People say that doesn’t matter anymore. 
They say there’s a level playing field now.
Things have changed – everyone’s equal now. 
Obama elected -- we're all post-racial now, people say.
Take a bow. Break your arm patting your back. 

But when I think of a flat field, I think of a black baby girl, born in Atlanta --
Back when I was. Only she couldn’t get into the hospital that admitted me.
The drugs that shoved my death aside taunted  her folks. 
When her mother cried out with a mother's grief, none but Jesus heard her.

I stand on top of a level playing field, 
Under which there are too many unseen graves.
All the land around here is like that. Full of graves.
And all I can do with my gift is give the dead and those who mourn them this:
To remember them – to speak of them – 
To seek justice for them – 
To see the graves others won't see -- such strange fruit --
Graves dug when I was born, and ...
Even as we speak.

For April 29, write a poem about a gift or curse (ala fairy tales) that you were given at birth.


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