1. because I never understood: I called it down-syndrome/handicap/retarded/a disease that destroys the brain/the body before it has a chance to fall into this world: wet & cold days, waiting on the bus and its long mechanical tongue rolling towards us: me in my mittens, my sister in her wheelchair, my mother behind us both, pushing us towards its teeth, not out of cruelty, but because all children are eventually swallowed: tomorrow I’ll be the stupid boy holding a bag of chips out to the boy with one eye on his forehead, the other brown like mine: he sees right through me and knows that I’m afraid: my mother hits me upside the head and commands me to share in this waiting while my sister/her daughter is held down on a table somewhere, racked by machines & needles to determine why she is still alive: this was supposed to be a definition poem, but I’d rather define the shape of my ignorance/my mother’s loss/my own silent betrayal when years later, out of nowhere, my mother said I never meant for us to grow up so fast: apologizing for the simple fact we were alive: I forgot my tongue: I want back the years when my mother was younger than I am now, raising two children, and would sometimes burst into song: I am immortal, I have inside me blood of kings! and made me a believer that be it flood or fire, hurricane or heart attack, gunshot or simply the body giving itself back to dust, we could never die: save slowly, until there was only one of us left
GARY JACKSON was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas. He is the author of the poetry collection Missing You, Metropolis, which received the 2009 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in Callaloo, Tin House, and 32 Poems. He teaches in the MFA program at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina.