The Day I Was Born

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Ten days into National Poetry Month, it occurs to me that maybe I should have thought through this whole “poem a day” thing more carefully. There could have been timelines and themes and all kinds of stuff that would have come naturally to a more organized person. Too late for that now.

Here is a poem I discovered just the other day when I liked Pea River Journal on Facebook. Having lived and worked in Birmingham for a year, and being an unapologetic lover of the South, it’s not surprising that I liked this poem.

I’ve taught race to college students now in Bloomington, Indiana; Jackson, Mississippi; Birmingham, Alabama; and Madison, Indiana. When you teach race in Mississippi and Alabama, you can skip the part where you’re trying to convince the white students that race still very much matters in today’s world. They are under no such illusion that racism and prejudice are things of the past. It’s hard to believe that race doesn’t matter when you go to school in a white flight private academy.

Up here in Indiana, folks very much want to believe that racism is something that belongs exclusively to the South. We’re better than that up here, they sometimes tell themselves. How can I say exactly what I think about that? “Bullshit” does it best, I think.

The Birmingham I lived in was a city that was not particularly interested in trying to forget the ugliness of their racial past. The people I met seemed more interested in using that past to remind them of what is always possible when we pretend that things are all just fine. A good lesson to keep in mind no matter where you live.

Birmingham civil rights sculpture

Sculpture outside the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham

The Day I Was Born
by Robert Gray

whenever i say i’m from alabama

people seem to want to ask

what it was like to hold that fire hose

if i ever had to answer i’d tell them

i was born the day that happened

they seem to want to ask

what it was like to bomb that church

and kill those little girls

i was born that day as well

i was born the day they marched across

the edmund pettus bridge

the day wallace made his stand

the day martin had his dream

the day he saw the mountaintop

and the day after that

i was born innocent

free of all the blood

shed that day

but i was born into blood

i still am washing from my hands

Courtesy Pea River Journal

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