If my poverty has a square root,
It is my White Grandma
with her roots that stretch back to Revolution,
roots that never took.
You could call her an orphan
her mom dead
her dad dead drunk,
but unlike her orphanage-bound siblings,
White Grandma was given to the neighbors.
She won’t call herself an orphan
because she cried when her new mother
gave her a pair of shoes.
Oh the joy.
Oh the pride.
For some poor, wealth is a healthy family
or a painted house
for others it’s a full stomach
for her it’s shoes.
She says there is no better foundation than your two feet.
And she won’t call herself an orphan
because she cried when her new father
let her go to school.
She cried because her new not-family had roots
deep enough for her to learn rather than work
to read rather than reap
She cried on the way home from school
passing the Jim Crow kids
who wore store bought clothes
and my god, she said, their shoes were gorgeous.
Go tell a history book about White Grandma’s tears.
Go tell racism about her envy.
I would say “It’s about more than skin, god damn it!”
and think about poverty and economics.
“Yes,” she would agree.
“Yes, it’s about shoes.”
In the absence of heritage, family, money, education,
in the absence of roots,
you grasp at passing pieces of pride,
and White Grandma caught shoes.
To admire them,
she could never raise her head.