Monday, July 16, 2007

Ode to Norma Leftwich

Norma, you who dared tell me what to do and knew I'd listen,
girlfriend of 50 years since the first day of second grade
when you tapped me on the shoulder to borrow a pencil
and I gave you one with an eraser.

You were a half head taller than me with three braids,
one that reached out of your forehead and over an eyebrow
you could arch into a Whitestone Bridge
whenever we needed to make a quick exit.

You were half a parallelogram and I was your other half
creating each other from the stones of our youth,
writing our names on the sidewalk in pastel chalk
washed away in thunderstorms and smelling of clean pavement.

We held hands on the subway,
rode to Manhattan and discovered ourselves in the Egyptian Room
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, far from
the polluted shores of the Bronx River, by Hunts Point Avenue
filled with the smell of the Cafe Bustelo plant and the stench of garbage.

Your father was a probation officer on the Grand Concourse
who became the first Black Senator from New York State.
My Dad made arch supports in a shop near Bellevue Hospital.
Let's face it. If you'd been white we would've never met
to sun ourselves on Orchard Beach throughout the summer
until no one could tell the difference.

We stayed in each other's sight, looked around corners
and noticed what was there before making a move.
You gave me your birthstone ring before we parted for high school
and told me to never forget you,
Norma, who, like me, said goodbye to everyone whose eyes
were closed before they could be opened.

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