The Rules

When you are born your skin
will be graham cracker colored        like mine
You will be able to pass the paper bag test
long before you have any idea what it is

One day you will ask where we came from
I will pull out a map of Boston        point out
neighborhoods still scarred from forced
busing. Trace my finger along avenues
that serve as mini Mason Dixon lines

I will pass over the park where my father
stood        a year older than you        wiping
another boy’s spit from his cheek
the word nigger still ringing in his ears

And before that you’ll ask drinking
from that infinite well of curiosity
reserved for children        I will fumble
for an appropriate response summoning

an image of the share cropping South
My grandmother        suitcase on her lap
looking for the last time at a body
lynched limp        swaying on sturdy branch

We’ll take turns laughing at Grandma’s
funny phrases and I’ll explain how
her accent followed her from the South
You’ll ask if we can go down there someday

Someday I’ll say        When you are born,
I will be faced with a choice: raise
a fearless boy to be buried young
Or raise a man constantly reminded

of his place. I will tread this tightrope
teach you the rules. There are things
you cannot do. You cannot afford
to be reckless, like some of your

pale faced peers. Do not run
in public. This alone could be
cause for suspicion. Worse still,
if there’s something in your hands.

Your hands are the stuff of magic
tricks: what was bought appears
stolen, a snack shape shifts into
a weapon.

And someone should know where
you are at all times. I am not
naïve enough to think it will be me.
Long before I am ready,

you’ll outgrow your love of
giggling secrets in my ear.
But this rule provides the alibi
you never thought you’d need.

Soon you’ll tune your inner
compass to navigate this path.
I am laying groundwork to keep you
alive long enough to get there.


Simone John

About Simone John

Simone John is a wandering writer. She received her Individualized Bachelor of Arts from Goddard College. Unable to resist the draw of "the process," she returned to Goddard to pursue her MFA in Poetry. Home is a moving target. When she isn’t chasing poems across the globe, she can be found in Boston, MA.
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