sometimes i wake at night and wonder

sometimes i wake at night and wonder
where my mother’s soul has gone
i do not believe in god
but i’m a great believer in the soul
it would have fled so fast
so fast
souls are often in a hurry
to flee the carcasses of white southern women
these tara-bellas make it tough to be a soul
they put a lot of pressure on a spirit
they have so many rules about who is fit
to be around them, they wear souls out—
there is a notion of a common energy
in nature, a mixing and commingling
of essences, but white southern ladies of the delta
get the vapors at the very thought of being
whipped together in a mixing bowl
a new kind of battered woman with its own
abhorrent and indecent pun—
they do not apologize for how they feel
they suffer from a surfeit of gentility
a peculiar kind of purity that survives the soil
they know what they expect of a christian god
they mean to have it on their terms
and if elysium lies beyond that distant light
and it is something other than the crisco version
of the king james promissory note
that’s too damned bad for somebody—
my mother would have been right there
her soul within her iron control, waiting
before that final aura with all the other
white southern women of a certain age
until things got properly sorted out
waiting to be reassured
by someone in authority
that the coloreds who had gone ahead
were only there to bring them coffee
and biscuits
and a cold cloth
to wrap around their turkey throats—
and when the angels came forward
to tell them it was safe to go ahead
my mother would have sighed with relief
she followed the angels at first
but stopped when she noticed some ladies holding back
you go right ahead, sugar, they tell her
we’ll be along by and by
an angel looked down at her kindly
took her hand and led her on
the angel said, let me tell you how they like their tea

—Don Whittington


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