YOUR LOVE (MEANS EVERYTHING TO ME), 1981
Damon doesn’t remember
how old he was when
he saw his grandpa on the ground
hogtied, the police laughing.
This will teach ya, they said. Damon
doesn’t remember learning
about the Klan, but he remembers
the stories of crosses cutting
the night open with their flames.
He’s seen the charred grass, black
as the pupil of an eye. The first time
he was called Nigger, he remembers.
The word hurt more than Tommy’s
fist colliding with Damon’s lips
for asking Amy, Tommy’s sister, to be
his Valentine. Sucking
his bottom lip and swallowing blood,
Damon’s anger sizzled the whole
way to the principal’s office. Whipped
at school and once he got home:
Damon’s mama made him get a switch.
This will teach ya, she said. The last
time Damon talked smart
to the cops, the barrel of the gun
was warm against his face
as if the cop had just shot somebody.
This will teach ya.
ONE OF A KIND (LOVE AFFAIR), 1985
The crucifix in the center of her chest,
Christ in the center of her life, she liked
what that felt like, something stable
to hang on to, somebody who’d listen,
who wouldn’t judge. Power centered
by her heart. She leaned back into
the chair, let out a laugh, a laugh freer
than the mouth of the Mississippi
finding the gulf, freer than dandelion
seeds caught in the breeze’s breath,
freer than a whisper turning to a yell, than
hair brushed out from rollers. Putting
her feet up on the ottoman, she crosses
them and then herself. Rosary beads
move before her fingers do. Prayers
lift and flit, lift and flit, just as the smoke
will later than evening, when the music
plays drums with God’s head.
Douglas Manuel received a BA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University, an MFA in poetry from Butler University, and a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. His first collection of poems, Testify, won an IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for poetry, and his poems and essays can be found in numerous literary journals, magazines, and websites, most recently Zyzzyva, Pleiades, and the New Orleans Review. He is a Bayard Rustin Fellow at Whittier College and teaches at Spalding University’s low-res MFA program.