Being Wise Twelve April 25, 2021
My friend Jaki is still there, though
she has a new disguise. It’s in her
smile, her truth, both pointed and
laced with compassion. She opens
the pain of others from slavery
times through her skin, her sorrow.
Her look strikes deep, though I
miss some words: the mother who
dressed her small son for a trip to
town and never saw him again.
He’d been dressed up to be sold.
The grandfather they wouldn’t
tell her about. She survived as
North Carolina dealt with the
integration of the schools, by
being sent north to a Quaker school
for safety. We came from Illinois
to rent a farmer’s old house. Everyone
we talked to wanted to know where
we stood on the racial question.
When the children of the farmer’s
hands came over to play, the farmer
said, “Don’t do that.” But nobody
knew when Jaki crossed the line
and read me her poems, and I said
we need to publish them. They
weren’t typed. I said I’d type them.
We became friends. My baby Ginia
and her Segun were in the same
daycare in Chapel Hill. Sometimes
I picked up Segun and took him to
Jaki. Brave mother. Her poems
flowed out, defying the rules.
When i praised T.J. Reddy, in jail
for burning a stable of horses,
which he never did, and called him
a saint, the farmer said we had
to leave. Terry left, too. The farmer’s
aunt said she’d find me a house,
but, alone with three children, I
didn’t think I could manage. We
moved to Chapel Hill, and so did Jaki
and her young family. In the next issue
of our poetry mag, we had poems by
Jaki and Sherman Shelton. By 1977
I had published her book Dead on
Arrival. Over the years she worked
her way to being known and honored.
Now she’s our state’s poet laureate.
And even when we meet virtually,
the love of old friends is there. I’m
not forgotten, and she is treasured
by people everywhere. I say, “I’ll
be eighty-four next month, and I’m
still mischievous, and Jaki laughs.