Sunday, April 25, 2021

Being Wise Twelve

Katherine Wolfe and Jaki Shelton-Green at Jaki's celebration at Quail Ridge Books, 2018, becoming Poet Laureate

Being Wise Twelve April 25, 2021

For Jaki

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.

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