High Heaven


for Rosalee

He who loves gives a hostage to fortune.] –Friedrich Nietzsche


Another stinking diaper to thank
God for, why we traveled all the way to Bethlehem,
Alabama, to get this,
slept in a crummy motel for a month waiting
for her to be born, mud-wrestled every bureaucrat
in the state, pressing inky fingers on every piece
of paper they sent to Montgomery, endured stares
and questions: “Is she colored?” the white maid asks—
a word I haven’t heard since my Georgia
cracker youth. Then another:
“But she’s a pretty little pickaninny.
And don’t ever cut her hair—
it’ll just make it kinky.”

We named her after Rosa Parks and Harper Lee.
The old man in the doctor’s office says,
“She gonna be a Coca-Cola redbone,”
a term we’ve never heard.
“You better keep them boys away.”

Now, she’s crawling into every trouble there is,
and I remember why I’ve waited this long
for what I always feared:
loving something so much
you could die from it, this joy
at the last, at sixty-six.

I always wondered what would “curdle the blood,”
but midway through the baby poem I swore
I’d never write, and halfway down
the hall, she’s trying to unplug the smoke
detector, and shrieking to high heaven, not
in pain but simply because she’s found
her new voice, her own language,
and is already on her way, away.