I’m Not Thatwhiteman (by Herb Lowrey)

I’m Not Thatwhiteman

By Herb Lowrey

 From the book, Heart River Undertow, published by Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe in 2008.

 When you look at me
you probably see my Celtic father
not my dark eyed mother
part Indian part nobody
her father an orphan a child slave
who didn’t know his roots

My brother was like her
dark eyes black hair
always aching
for white acceptance

He felt Native
souls in his bones
talked to others
with eyes of a wolf

When I meet people
no one ever asks
Are you Native American

They only see a white man
But I wasn’t born white
I was taught to be white
taught to do what whites do
taught white was different
like God

Mother’s Native blood
laughed at this lie
helped me feel the earth breathe
to disavow the Manifest Destiny
white Anglos’ ordained design
to grow democracy on others land
even if it eliminated other races or cultures

I’m not Thatwhiteman

And I’m not that white missionary
who gave Great-grandmother
Blackfoot Woman Runs Fast
her Christian name Martha
forced her to starve
on a reservation

At the age of twelve
she was bought
by river boat pilot
to be his squaw
to slave for him to escape
bitter cold and hunger
escape dream haunts
about ghosts of braves
and buffalo herds swallowed
by white man’s hunger

I’m Martha’s great-grandson

but I’m not Thatwhiteman

Who raided Mexican landowners
drove them off ancestors’ land
where north of the Rio Grande
ghost marauders race up a cemetery hill
like summer desert heat
to Virgin Mary standing alone
her faded blue cement robe
surrounded by broken weathered crosses
erected by Mexican ancestors
now illegal in their homeland

I know the hearts of these people
who struggle to survive

and I’m not Thatwhiteman

That sold Africans into slavery
leaving millions of black people
without hope for deliverance
from phantom pain
caused by lost birthright
an amputated limb
their minds cannot forget

As a young boy growing up
in a southern white town
black people were a mystery
like Boo who lived in
To Kill a Mockingbird’s scary house
which kids raced past
because Boo was different

Different    the bigot’s word
the word that makes you afraid
to be close
to share your food and water
to share yourself

When I dared to sneak into Boxtown
where landfill and blacks lived
it was scary
until we began to play
and that black-white switch in our minds snapped off
and the one that turns on source light
snapped on
and colors began to fade

For as a child
big eyes swallow truths
like cold Grapette sodas on a hot day

Children speak without fear
have to be hushed
sent to their room
have to be taught
to stay in their box

So many boxes
seems everyone has allowed
their coffin to live their lives
coffins relating to coffins
while their human lives in darkness
before last rites are read
and headstones set

Don’t put me in that box
Feel my humanity
let it comfort your fears
let our souls merge
free to burn
in a billion colors