POETRY: For Tommy

by Reuben Jackson, host of Friday Night Jazz on Vermont TheBreezeKickstarterWebPublic Radio

I.

College was not an option.

It was a where, not an if.

The really smart kids began

thinking about it at birth.

What was the sound of a black child

telling his or her parents they wanted to take a year off

in order to find themselves?

You don’t want to know.

II.

My hometown was, as my mother liked to say —

a big/small Southern place where

conservative dreams were allowed.

And then there was Tommy —

who received a scholarship to a college in Maine.

We knew it existed — where it was —

and where it wasn’t.

When he said yes…

fear and lower case optimism blossomed.

He was our Jackie Robinson —

they even prayed for him at church.

III.

But he fell like maple leaves in September.

No one knew why.

Everyone knew why.

I could smell the pain.

IV.

About a week after he returned home,

he entered the barbershop.

What is the sound of a black boy

felled by the Great White North?

Even the electric clippers

seemed quieter.

When Garrett joked with

Tommy about the blue fortunes of his beloved Dallas Cowboys-

He burst into tears and muttered-

“I thought you all would make fun of me”

“You are next” — Garrett replied.

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