Crystal Williams reads “Double Helix” | The Migration Series Poetry Suite


Crystal Williams “Double Helix” After Jacob Lawrence’s
“The Migration Series” and Isabel Wilkerson’s
“The Warmth of Other Suns” One At night, my father played piano & sang, his voice our raft on a quiet lake, an island of gentleness & because gentleness is a choice, I know something—, I have told you something
essential about my father & the history
of black people in America. & because he looked at my mother & me as if we were divine,
brilliant, bright children of God & because if gesture & spirit have weight, my father’s equaled
two thousand blooming peonies, I have told you something about faith & the history
of black people in America. Scientists are full of news these days: We are rotting fruit lain to ground. In each breath we inhale
thousands of humans collected on the tongues of leaves, in the pink eyes of peonies,
on the powdery backs of pollen. Exhaled. With each draw,
a millennia of history enters us & we cannot control, can only harness whom or what we host. Our traumas, the bright blue mysticisms & burnt orange murmurs, our joys & muddled currencies are archived in genetic code. I am not of my father’s blood but am of my father, which is also the history
of black people in America. At my 6th birthday party, the parents drank martinis & sangria in white linen & silk as we played on the Slip-n-Slide while the desolate beast next door snarled & snapped through the fence, our jubilation magnifying his rage. He leapt & whipped
into an ever-reddening frenzy & because pain will out, & because hatred will out, & because my father
sensed a shift in the air because he deeply believed
my mother & me divine & the faithful have second sight, & because some Alabama-born malice had taught him a lesson
to do with mercilessness, the way danger wets the wind, my father tore into the house emerging with a finger
on a gun’s trigger. He stood sentinel the rest of the day, gun slack on his thigh, squinting at the feverishness
at the fence— as we leapt & shrieked & ate cake. This is what I was trying
to explain to Avi when I sent him that book about black migration
from the American south. I was trying to say:
we have cause to care for & track our wounds. To be anything
other than enraged or dead is to be a success if black in America. To become a refuge, a safe harbor is to be a miracle if black in America. His ailing father listened quietly as Avi read aloud passages about the vicious hand of the south & burnings & bodies & swinging,
cold chicken & packed trains, escapees casting
towards a northern brink they could not fully understand, away from an ending they did. & because hatred will out & because we cannot control
whom or what we host. & because his father
is a Holocaust survivor, in a moment of lucidity, he said sadly: “Son, why do you insist
on reading me my story?” So we, the Jewish son the African daughter, mouths bursting
& soured with flowers & fauna, rotting leaves & peonies & men banging on the midnight door, stood as an ecosystem of gas & fire, double helixes & light, the story of, the choices of, our fathers knotted between us. & because I wanted
to touch his face as my own, & because I felt his skin shudder as my own, understood his father’s stubble
as my own & because what are we
if not our brothers? & because there has always been
binding & burning & escaping & enduring & because
I know no better way to understand the history
of human beings than to tell you the story
of my father’s choice to be a raft on a lake, which, no matter what more
you might be told, is the true story of black thought, black life, black people in America. Two At night, my father sang, his voice our raft on a quiet lake, an island of gentleness & because gentleness is a choice, & because in each breath
we inhale thousands of humans on the powdery backs of pollen, I have told you something essential & because he looked at
my mother & me as if we were divine & because we were really
only rotting fruit lain to ground & because if gesture
& spirit have weight, my father’s equaled
two thousand blooming peonies, At my 6th birthday party, the beast next door
snarled & snapped through the fence. & because our mysticisms & currencies are archived genetic code & because pain will out,
& because hatred outs & because some Alabama-born
malice had taught him mercilessness, my father emerged from the house a gun’s trigger and the rest of the day stood
as if a refuge, a harbor, the feverishness at the fence staring at it as we leapt & shrieked & then Avi read passages from the book & because we cannot control
whom or what we host, & because Avi’s father
is a Holocaust survivor, he asked: “Son, why?” & because we stood
as an ecosystem of double helixes, Alabama & Holocaust knotted between us & because I wanted
to touch his face as my own, as if we were divine,
brilliant, bright children of God & because I felt his skin
shudder as my own, as if we were divine,
brilliant, bright children of God, understood his father’s stubble
as my own & because what are we? & because there has always been
binding & escaping & enduring & because I am not of my father’s blood but am of Avi’s father, I know no better way to explain the history of humans than to tell you
my father played piano at night & sang, his voice our raft on a quiet lake, an island of gentleness & gentleness is a choice, is a miracle in America.

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