This month’s Versed in Florida is with poet Dr. James Brock. He’s the author of four books of poetry, a playwright and founding member of the Ghostbird Theatre Company in Fort Myers. Brock teaches literature and writing at Florida Gulf Coast University, and he curates Versed in Florida for WGCU. He tells Amy Tardif there are a lot of current events mentioned in this month’s poem, some of which are quite raw. Brock also talks about racism in the classroom.
My White Fragility
Naturally, I will preface this poem about the blacks
with a quote from Virginia Woolf:
For she was a child, throwing bread to the ducks, between her parents who stood by the lake, holding her life in her arms which, as she neared them, grew larger and larger in her arms, until it became a whole life, a complete life, which she put down by them and said, "This is what I have made of it! This!" And what had she made of it? What, indeed?
And thinking of the blacks, their mattering
lives, I look at my whole white life, my bookshelf.
See? Why there’s Audre Lorde and Harriett Jacobs
and Kevin Young and Yusef Komunyakaa and Richard
Wright and Ralph Ellison, all their February words!
And I look at my white, complete life, and say,
“I have done nothing wrong.”
In Florida, the best hanging tree is the live oak,
with its big low-limbed girth. At the Lee County
Courthouse a live oak has been made into a chainsaw
sculpture of an American bald eagle in flight. On my commute
to school, with my black president and my black
boss man, I go along Michigan Avenue,
right through the black heart of Dunbar. My neighbor
is anxious. Someone is giving the Asian food
delivery guy the building’s passcode. He’s
probably on probation. Our Sheriff shaves
his head, wears his green uniform, says how
we are not willing to face our problems.
He says I should have a registered gun in my glove
compartment. I should keep a loaded gun in my desk
drawer, packing heat in my classroom. The evangelist
at my university shouts through his bullhorn
how my students are going to hell, all of them
texting their next booty call. I think how language
is dripping in the blackness. It’s like that tar baby.
Elvis’s hips, Beyoncè’s X, are they not black, too?
When I think black I think cinder black. Or my
one black kiss—Jesus, she was a cheerleader at Idaho
State, straight out of Pocatello—a kiss for me
for being sweet. I am a nice guy. When I think black
I think the earth cindered, all that burning,
my life cindered, desiccated, to the whitest, white ash.