Marvin Lurie

But, That Was Then (2018)

Time was, if your father or uncle
had an in with a Democratic precinct captain
or ward committeeman,
you could get to be a Chicago cop.
They patrolled our neighborhood in car 127.
When we were rowdy on the drugstore corner,
they just ran us off. Told us to go home.
Threatened to call our fathers.

Growing up I only ever saw two black men.
One shoveled coal into the basement of our six flat.
The other a farmer with crates of live chickens
who came around once a week.

There was a girl in high school,
one black speck in a flood of white.
I saw her every day, then she was gone.
I missed seeing her
an anomaly who exposed our sameness.
I never said hello or knew her name.

College summer jobs I worked with and for blacks,
face to face on the shop floor inside the factory walls.
Outside was everything else.

Now, sometimes I walk down the street thinking I'm white.


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