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Somewhere, 1950

It’s black there. Where? It’s black there! Get away!
Where? Down there! There? On your foot? There.
On the bedspread? Get away! What’s it look like?
It’s big. See it? Hair. What? Is anybody there? Black!
Black! Who’s there? In the corner. A lot of hair!
I can’t touch it. I don’t want to touch it!
Hicky, I think it’s your mother! Calm down, Jacqueline.
Don’t let it touch me! Don’t touch her! It’s black! It’s hair!
All right. All right. I’ll tell it to go away. Go away.
Get away from her! You’re dead! Calm down, calm down.
Don’t tell me calm down! It’s your mother!
Get away from my baby! It’s your mother, Hicky!
Her long black hair! She’s dead! She wants to get my baby!
Nobody’s taking Yvonne away. I won’t let her! Calm down.

Delirious night of pneumonia sweating.
Over my bed they were somehow standing.
Mother and Daddy together.
So pretty, pretty weather
The month of May!
How could I get stuffed up this way?
Spring is perfect said kinfolk
For pneumonia. Dark skin folk
Can’t shed coats, hats, wooly underwear
Like white folk ripping a tear
In time. We ain’t made for the North Pole.
And that pneumonia like a sneaky mole
Had been hiding in me for months,
Ever since that awful night ready to pounce
When I was standing in the cold frozen
Watching the burnt house burn down.
That’s what Mama and her sisters said.
Later on, the danger gone, Mother agreed.
But that night delirium’s flame
Lit every shadow with blame.
I had caught pneumonia from the dead.
Daddy’s dead.

Family Tree 

Deep in this World Heritage city
Five trees overshadow my roof.
The names of four I have been told
Mulberry holly sumac sweet gum
Mellifluous words
That mollify the tongue.
The fifth, no longer a sapling,
Now delinquent and ready to batter
My chimney, drops its leaves
And nothing else.
A name is not biography.
To be told is not to know.

With Roots On the
Eastern Shore of Maryland
Twenty-Fifth Reunion
August 12, 2000

Not often I feather dust
This indigo commemorative mug
Stamped in white with a simple tree
Now set behind glass doors
With a booklet of names. That day
In no need of protection
In a meeting hall sat the real
McCoys, strangers
Less likely to meet again
Than riders on my train to work.
A name is not biography.
To be told is not to know.

I had passed my half-century mark
When far-flung branches
Of the family tree first invited me.
A spectrum of narrow weather.
Labyrinths of rescue without assault.
They all spoke in tongues:
Progenitors, divorced, had never lived.
A dead adolescent aunt sat resurrected
In my face…Even then five backyard trees
Entrenched a greater ganglion of truth.
A name is not biography.
To be told is not to know.


Yvonne was the first poetry editor at feminist Aphra and Ms., Yvonne received two NEAs (poetry/1974/1984), a BRIO award (1991), a Leeway (fiction/2003), a Pushcart Prize (v.6), etc. Recent print publications: Black in the Middle: Anthology of the Black Midwest (Belt), Geez: Bone & Breath (Geez), Home: An Anthology (Flexible), CV 2- Canadian Poetry (43.2), Horror USA: California (Soteira), Is It Hot In Here Or Is It Just Me? (Social Justice Anthologies), Quiet Diamonds 2019/2018 (Orchard Street), Bosque #8 (Bosque), 161 One-Minute Monologues (Smith&Kraus), Event (49.1), Yellow Arrow Journal (vol.5.2), Philadelphia Stories, Dappled Things, Burning Word Literary Journal, Foreign Literary Journal #1. Selected online listings: www.iwilla.com.