Returns

Vievee Francis

(2016/2021)

And what did I expect
going back down
South? I could walk
the side-walks. I could
look anyone in the eye.
I could swim in the pools.
I could, I could, I could, I
could…and I ate at fine
restaurants where the chef
greeted me and asked me
how my meal was, and
I ordered a simple plate
at a simple diner and not many
looked up, and the beaches
welcomed me, and the chains
of hotels on those beaches,
and not one person said
“nigra”
and did you think I wouldn’t
say it here? I went back after
saying I would never go back,
after a childhood lost
to adult brigades without
a sword or a gun, without
a bitter word or rude
glance,
like a broken saint, like a
saint with every bone
broken, I walked with a
limp,
I smiled with half my
teeth and I was ready
to die in the war
begun
before I was born. But
I could not find the
battle field. And the
field my mother as a
child would have
worked was a parking
lot. And I sat between
the lines and cried for
what I would never
have, justice. And the
tanks within me
rusted, and the bombs
imploded in what was
left. Now, what you
see is a shell. And
what I saw was a lie.
An
illusion. Knowing, like
truth is a mercy, even
when buried. You
have to know what’s
there under the balls
of your feet. But I was
still surprised when it
lifted its head like
snakes hidden in the
brush
behind a pretty house
in North Carolina’s
triangle. The landlord
said “Look out for the
copperheads” and I
should have known
then.

Vievee Francis is the author of four books of poetry, including The Shared World and Forest Primeval, winner of the Hurston Wright Legacy Award and the 2017 Kingsley-Tufts Award. She is an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College.
Originally published:
June 1, 2022

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