Last words & epigraphs
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Born Negro, Born Black
A powder-blue watermarked birth certificate officially stamped with the state seal of Georgia says I was born Negro The state of Georgia created out of the pale-blue sky, a birth certificate for my mother Otherwise, there would be no proof she is here in the flesh or that she had been born at all No midwife records, no dates jotted down in an old family bible by my grandmother who never learned to read or write When I was fifteen, we buried my drowned cousin in the colored cemetery we drove seventy miles outside the city of Savannah to get to Past the lazing cows, past the spotted horses, past the stinging stench of manure No fancy wrought-iron fence No sign with neatly calligraphied letters announcing “Colored Cemetery” Just a small snatch of land overrun with weeds, grass, broken branches, seasons’ worth of decomposed leaves Fathers uncles brothers cut the bulky grass with push mowers archaic as Jim Crow Mothers aunts sisters raked, pulled weeds, swept debris from gravestones hardly visible beneath the decayed brush—bringing the departed back to life—Uncle Bird, a jokester and eccentric who donned bearskin in winter— the growling head as hood Old Granny Tice, a tea leaf and palm reader who grew rich in her day from the gift of second sight Black Joe Buck, bold as blood, found swaying between the branches of a honey locust tree When I die, I want to be buried here I want my ashes strewn across the deep-blue Atlantic, my bones ground into Gorée Island’s unsettled dust, my nappy roots to spring from Georgia’s ghost plantations, and my death certificate to read—born Black.