Somerville, MA, ca. 1909
They came at night, but didn’t burn a cross,
those well-bred Northerners. Instead they stood
looking apologetic on the porch.
Their leader held a lantern, not a torch.
“Mi scusi, speak the English not so good,”
Maria Rosa smiled, confused. But then
they read it to her slowly. Rearing up,
she shook her fist and shouted at the men,
“Leave us alone, or I sell the house to nigger!”
It worked. They all turned whiter than they were
and never tried to mess with her again.
Or so my father says. Ashamed of her,
we tell the story with a guilty snigger,
pretending to be shocked. But at the bone
we know the secret gospel. Life’s a cup;
each sip you take is someone else’s loss.
Boo hoo. Salut. You take care of your own.
Rose Poto sometimes writes.