To Brown Eyes

They call it “Gordy’s” now,
It’s had many names and many faces
Since it opened early in Century #20
But last night I saw a face
As I walked out of that door
Groceries in hand
And that face has haunted me
Ever since
Not because of what I saw in it
But what it showed to me

The little boy was scared
And I get that, I’m a big guy
You see me coming round the corner
It’s like a rhino on the loose
And those big, brown eyes
The cutest goddamn eyes
Looked up at me with fear
So I smiled
And I nodded
And I went on my way

But I realized
As I got in the car and headed home
Home to my wife
Home to my baby
Sooner rather than later
I realized in that baby’s eyes a fear
That was more than the fear of a rhino
Coming around the corner
Because that was a black little boy
And I was a big, white man

Gordy’s is on
What we call
The North Side
A part of town that wants to keep out
“those people”
when you read it in the news
Because apparently
There’s something
wrong
with them

And I wondered to myself
What was that boy really afraid of?
Was he afraid of me
Or afraid of what I stood for?
Has he been taught
By his Dad that held him by the hand
Or has he learned
Through terrible life lessons
To fear
A big, white man like me?

Was this little boy
A conscientious objector
To a war he didn’t want
And we didn’t need?
Has he been taught
since birth
Things about people like me
Things about people “in power”
Like the police
How deep did his terror go?

I grew up in the country
I could count the number of black people I knew
If I got six of my fingers blown off
I went to college on the outskirts
Of the Great American Rust Belt
And I taught in classes
With bullet holes in the windows
And gang fights in the library
But I never did, and never will
Know that world that cried out to me in that child’s eyes

Maybe it’s nothing
Maybe it’s just white guilt
Or my bleeding heart gone wild
But when you have a choice
To be oversensitive
Or to be part of the problem
When your choices are Dick Cheney
Or Flower Power
Isn’t it better to die as a wimp
Than live as a monster?

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