Private Salvation | The New Engagement
Private Salvation art

Private Salvation

By Tyree Daye

Southern Silence

I ‘ve only trusted
four white people in my life,
my mother showed me
the ropes early, I’m afraid
to untie myself, get down from this branch,
even the Jesus on the wall of this church
has something up his sun-touched-sleeves,
tell me the value of my soul,
why you want it so badly?
I can’t pray to someone
who favors the men that called
us niggers from their trucks.

I touched every part of Thomas Field
until I found the dirt
I thought could hold me.

What said nothing always grieved.
I loved myself before I knew
what I was made of,
so many different things
will ruin the blood,
a bottle of gin killed three
of my uncles, one granddaddy,
we call it white liquor.

I wanted to cage and bring home
what I made of myself,
look at your proud boy mama.
I wish I only spoke in song,
make a home from these trees
the way birds do.

 

.

 

And we tried to sleep in the summer

my uncle protected me
from everything that wanted me ripened,

the dogs going crazy, matted black fur

chased kids from house to trailer, we feed

our dog the fat off the back end of the chicken,
he snarled, cornered me on the porch.

Summer’s favorite word was betta-run,
we did, prayed for our legs to hold up. The ground

made its own coffin,
lay in any spot long enough

and buzzards would circle,
a moon made of feathers in the day time.

He had to put our dog down, I still hear
the shot now, my first instructions on death,

my first execution. He died the way everyone here does,
one minute you’re alive and the next you are not,

like summer rain, fathers, then my uncle.
Summer made a ghost out of him,

his bad heart,
broken and swollen.

 

.

 

Many Ago

My mother’s name made

two-tight-a-space in my mouth, until I knew

I was saying many names, how the dead keep waiting

for me to say enter, two generations moved twice inside me,

my mother says letting go means removing the dead that won’t play ghost.

But I can’t, they’re the rocks in my river, cleaning me. Enter I tell them.

In the morning I pull a tendon out my throat

leave it in the bathroom sink, it belongs to a great aunt,

curled, she died making a fist.

My uncle sleeps on my heart, sings Sam Cooke to its knock.

Victor lays his head on my feet, his back no longer bloody,

reminds them of walking all over Youngsville,

smoking cigarettes behind the school, running from red coat dogs.

Maybe the dead also gather near the river to drink and confess

in the ribcage of pines. It feels good to not have blood one says,

I miss what touching water feels like, I can’t bear

the weight of what beginning again means.

 

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