Poetry / Artress Bethany White
:: An American Moor in Spain ::
Motherland is as tangible as the blackness of skin and the kink of a lock of burnished hair under an Iberian sun. This to a German child visiting Spain says it all: You’re African. His words stated so emphatically after assuring him I am American that I can feel the annoyance blossom in my chest and tighten my jaw. How to navigate this moment when a child professes to know more than me about who I am as his mother stands behind clasping small shoulders to her womb, daring me to contradict her son’s Teutonic intellect. Her smirk saying go ahead, deny your continent, your birthright. My nativity was cultivated in the breast milk of a native-born mother, resting in the sinews of her progeny, as precise an articulation as lips to breast, hand over heart an unshakable pledge of fealty. This is not treason; I am an American, though black. I am stolen goods but can trace my family back three hundred years on US soil, longer than Whitman’s leaves of grass, longer than this anger will last as I walk away muttering I am an American.
:: Role Reversal ::
for Sandra Bland The cruiser makes a tight u-turn on a rural highway, because an Illinois plate reminds him of a visit to Chicago’s Navy Pier on an early spring day so windy he felt the hawk peck the skin of his features like a knife, but today just wants to relive the sojourn with someone who will know what he means when he says, well, cold. And say, after relief brightens Sandra’s untroubled brown face, she tells the cop about the job luring her from Chicago back to this southwestern place, and he swells with pride pleasure unwinding in his voice while stating with a bow Welcome back to Texas, I sure hope you enjoy us now.
From the writer
:: Account ::
I find myself resolving traumatic childhood events in my poetry. This is a byproduct of clearly not having the intellectual tools as a kid to process a complex world. “An American Moor in Spain” reveals how a simple encounter around the issue of national identity as a teenager in Spain became a watershed moment in my first-hand experience with monolithic notions of blackness. It was a shock to be called out of my American identity by a stranger and to be questioned once I corrected the perpetrator. In the moment, I remember being angry because I was basically being called a liar. Later, I realized that my very right to exist in an American context was being questioned because of the color of my skin, a phenomenon I would come to know as de rigueur as an African American adult in the US. Similarly, the poem “Role Reversal” imagines a moment when a young black woman’s death could have been avoided if the motivation behind her being pulled over had been an act of benign randomness instead of calculated racial profiling.
Artress Bethany White, PhD is the author of Fast Fat Girls in Pink Hot Pants: Poems (Aldabra Press, 2012). She has received the Mary Hambidge Distinguished Fellowship from the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts for nonfiction and The Mona Van Duyn Scholarship in poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. New nonfiction is forthcoming in Seeking Home: Marginalization and Representation in Appalachian Letters and Song (University of Tennessee Press, 2016). Recent poetry has appeared in Poet Lore and Menacing Hedge.