Fannie Lou Hamer
“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!” She sat across the desk from me, squirming. It was stifling. My suite runs hot but most days it is bearable. This student has turned in nothing, rarely comes to class. When she does, her eyes bore into me with a disdain born long before either of us. She doesn’t trust anything I say. She can’t respect my station, the words coming out of these lips, this face. My breathing is an affront. It’s me, she says. I never was this student’s professor— her immediate reaction seeing me at the smart board. But I have a calling to complete & she has to finish college, return to a town where she doesn’t have to look at, listen to or respect anyone like me—forever tall, large & brown in her dagger eyes, though it’s clear she looks down on me. She can return— if not to her hometown, another enclave, so many others, where she can brush a dog’s golden coat, be vegan & call herself a good person. Are you having difficulty with your other classes? No. Go, I say, tenderly. Loaded as a cop’s gun, she blurts point-blank that she’s afraid of me. Twice. My soft syllables rattle something planted deep, so I tell her to go where she’d feel more comfortable as if she were my niece or godchild, even wish her a good day. If she stays, the ways this could backfire! Where is my Kevlar shield from her shame? There’s no way to tell when these breasts will evoke solace or terror. I hate that she surprises me, that I lull myself to think her ilk is gone despite knowing so much more, and better. I can’t proselytize my worth all semester, exhaust us for the greater good. I can’t let her make me a monster to myself— I’m running out of time & pity the extent of her impoverished heart. She’s from New England, I’m from the Mid-South. Far from elderly, someone just raised her like this with love. I have essays to grade but words warp on the white page, dart just out of reach. I blink two hours away, find it hard to lift my legs, my voice, my head precious to my parents now being held in my own hands. How did they survive so much worse, the millions with all of their scars! What would these rivers be without their weeping, these streets without their faith & sweat? Fannie Lou Hamer thundered what they felt, we feel, into DNC microphones on black and white TV years before I was a notion. She doesn’t know who Fannie Lou Hamer is, and never has to.
Copyright © 2018 by Kamilah Aisha Moon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.