An Atlanta mother's litany | Sojourners

An Atlanta mother's litany

Dayshift is terrible if you don't have nobody to pick up your children. You tell them to call you at work when they get home. Or you call home when they suppose to be there. If your boss will let you.
An Atlanta mother, interviewed March 1, 1981

All I have left is that half-orphaned child
and you, dear Lord.

Sweet Jesus, all I have
is you to raise as Hand against the Death.

His call has not come in for me
and there's no answer when I ring my house.
The clock back here in the kitchen where I work,
synchronized to the radio news timetone,
tells me my son is nine long minutes late
making it home from Junior High.
Even in this warm dishwater,
my hands feel as cold as death.

Twice since threetwentyfive, these hands have dialed
to stir the principal about my child.
Each time with practiced patience he assured,
"Yes ma'am, the bus has left with all aboard.
Intact. No cause for panic. No alarm.
He'll soon be calling you from home, unharmed."
Now paused between the dishes and the phone,
in mid-air moving as though on their own,

these hands
clench, unclench and clench.
Their nails draw warm blood from their palmskins
soaked soft and
vulnerable like my baby

Ten Minutes Twelve Fifteen Minutes Twenty Children
still no call no child answering ring
hands wipe face tears wet warm
hands hold mouth stop no scream
hands join hands together pressed
in prayer is all I have left
to raise against assassins at the schoolbus
stop oh God please stop!

Rev. Muhammad Isaiah Kenyatta was a Baptist minister and social activist who lived in Williamstown, Massachusetts when this poem appeared.

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