a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
in a huge fitting room
in a multi-leveled store, with scaffolding
for clothing racks. She is trying on a white dress.
I tell her I want one like it.
When the page of the dream turns into a mall, we pass a Disney store.
In the window, a display from Frozen, a snowman costume, white
except for an orange nose.
I say I want that too, try on the headpiece, discover
it’s made to fit my grandchild.
What is all this longing?
I think of a film I saw at an art museum in the city,
every actor on the silent screen a brown- or black-skinned prisoner
wearing white. Stark and blinding white like an LED glow against
the bones of winter trees. But wait I say. Why not go back to the dream
in the mall, in the store, in the dressing room
where the scaffolding has fallen by now and the dress is missing.
My daughter digs in the rubble, finds another one, this time white
with red buttons.
This dress will never do.
What I want is pure white, lace and cotton,
warm from the iron.
Once my dead mother came to the foot of my bed.
She was shrouded in white.
I followed her through the back of the closet
onto a dark wooded path
to a bridge only she could cross.
I reached out after her.
It was like reaching for the moon.
she’s living in her ex-boyfriend’s truck
in his sister-in-law’s cousin’s driveway,
I know she’s not fooling. Her mother
gave birth to her at fourteen in Arkansas,
she says. Because her teeth are half-rotted
nubs, I think of that smudge of a place deep
in the Ozarks I saw in a movie once, where
I could almost smell the methamphetamine,
though I’d never smelled it before, or lived
in a truck or gone begging
for a bag of food and a warm blanket.
How easy it would be for me, born
on the bright side, to speak of pity or guilt.
But that’s not my work here. Instead, this:
See the girl. Listen to her story.
Tell it to you. Maybe you’ll be the speaker of the poem.
Maybe you’ll be the girl.
Barbara Conrad is author of three poetry collections: The Gravity of Color, Wild Plums and her most recent, There Is a Field (2018). She is also Editor of Waiting for Soup, an anthology from her writing group at a center for homeless neighbors. Her poems have appeared in Tar River Poetry, Atlanta Review, Nine Mile, NC Literary Review, Broad River and several anthologies, such as Kakalak and Southern Poetry Anthology. Her poetry ranges from ironic takes on life to hard truths about social injustice.