History in Black and White
After a photo by Ranny Routt, “Arrest on the Carousel at Glen Echo Park: 1960”
In the full tilt of fantasy
on the carousel at Glen Echo, I reached
for a golden pole with my small hand,
peered up at a sapphire dome, flourished
with cherubs in circles of innocence,
bedded in pink roses. My feet dangled
from a purple tiger’s saddle,
its mouth open to growl but never harm.
In that splendor of spinning color
I never noticed the missing hues
until years later I learned
how young Black women and men
mounted horses with heavy tassels,
demanded their chance to catch the brass ring.
They knew their whirl to the Wurlitzer’s tune
would be cut short
when Jim Crow’s starched uniform
hauled them off to jail. Still, they leaned
into the wind for one revolution
to whip against echoes of the past,
then passed the reins with steady hands
to their peers and rode into the future.
Is this the history we’re warned not to teach,
these facts framed in black and white?
The View of Halley’s Comet from the Chuska Mountains, 1986
Some of us would later say we saw
a pulsing streak of light,
and some would never be sure,
but no matter, stardust settled
inside me. I dispersed into sky atoms,
opened into untethered space. For once
I wasn’t afraid to die, standing there
on a mountain torn open
for uranium once sealed in darkness,
its dust settled
into quilts, dishes, dresses
in homes of Navajo miners never told
of radon, known to the owners
for thirty years, settled on children playing
in mounds of stockpiles like raked leaves,
ore the color of corn pollen
they rolled on their tongues.
Did they look up that night, those owners?
Was the scintillant sky a sign to them
they could escape on the trail of a comet,
leave their deadly detritus shorn by the side of the road?
Borne back into my body,
the man in the blue parka next to me, and the woman
with the wool scarf entwining her toddler
weren’t strangers anymore,
though faces were sheathed in wraps and night.
No one stifled the mountain’s breath with words.
Then we descended
and city lights devoured the stars.
Joanne Durham is the author of “To Drink from a Wider Bowl,” winner of the 2021 Sinclair Poetry Prize (Evening Street Press, 2022). Her chapbook, “On Shifting Shoals,” is forthcoming from Kelsay Books. Her poetry has or will appear in Poetry East, Calyx, Rise-Up Review, Love in the Time of COVID Chronicles and numerous other journals. Please visit https://www.joannedurham.com/ for more about her background, publications, and awards.