what the midwife said when Mary McLeod Bethune was born with both eyes open
She saw black women walking
through a door marked “enter
to learn.” When a spider
built a web across it, they saved
the multiplication table of her
weaving, slipped in through the side.
Turns out everyone wanted a spot
on those dirt floors. She saw no seats
saved, each color as good as another.
She saw classes taught from top
of a barrel, students at cardboard boxes
writing their names with their own
fingernails. When men in hoods
came, filing by like teeth in a drunk’s mouth,
she kept her eyes open and the girls stood up
in a row for another lesson, while the cross
screamed fire from the front lawn.
In the end, they knew their Latin
conjugations; in the end, they could
say the pledge to this country
with their hands over their hearts
in a language the trustees, the men,
wouldn’t recognize, not even for half credit.
When My Third Daughter Is Born Brown-Eyed, I Dream of Amy Carmichael
She’s wearing shades and a sari,
a Dohnavur orphan’s hand
clasped in each of her own.
She doesn’t want your offering plates,
your missional knitting circles,
your watery (color of her sister’s eyes)
faith. Too smooth, doesn’t pierce
the soul, she says, like faith is a whiskey
or a German beer and she is sending it back
for something stronger.
Brown-eyed girl who once prayed
for blue eyes like her sisters,
saw children naked in temples
and stole them back one by one,
made them her daughters and her sons.
Amma, mother, crossed an ocean
(deep as her sister’s eyes) for starvation,
to be bed-ridden, to adopt a thousand
So third born daughter,
when you find yourself praying
for what you can never have,
think of orphans looking into eyes
the color of their own.
Renee Emerson has poems in magazines such as Perspectives and Valley Voices. She is the author of Keeping Me Still (Winter Goose Publishing 2014) and Threshing Floor (Jacar Press 2016). (blog)