19 November 2008

mathias nelson

mathias nelson

John Hamton used to get in trouble
for saying the word nigger back
in high school.

The teachers yelled, scolded,
suspended him, but he kept on:

nigger, nigger, nigger.

No one liked John.
I didn't like John,
but I didn't say anything.
Didn't pick at him or try to talk
sense. Instead I sat back and watched
the arguments, a little amused
at his stupidity.

My black friends mostly laughed
it off, now and then throwing
lunch at his wind burned
face. No one tried to beat him,
for he was built like a brick wall
lined with fat.

After high school, when everyone else
went to college, I became very apathetic,
hanging around crazy kids, but now
the crazy kids had guns. I was drinking
with them one day, looking at their pictures,
when surprised, I saw a photo of them
standing next to John. They had rifles and
John was holding two AK-47's with a low brow
grin on his face.

The 2008 presidential election coming
to a head, my brother stuck an Obama
sign in his yard; and recently babysitting
my nephews, early in the morning,
I noticed sharp, red plastic
shattered in the street. A taillight.
My brother's. Next to a crumpled can
of Bud Light.

Driving the boys to school, tuning
the radio to "Rain Drops Keep Falling
On My Head," and jolting with
the backseat kicks of my nephews,
I saw John, for the first time
since high school, sitting
on the front steps of a house
two blocks down from my brother's.
Still big. Slumped with his fists
clenched as if playing an invisible
shoot 'em up arcade game. Scowling
and not moving, brow bone big
as a caveman's. Red faced
and looking hungover.
Living in the neighborhood.

His head turned slowly with my car,
watching like an overweight lion
to a fast gazelle; and I
connected the election, the beer can,
John's AK-47s, my brother and his
black wife, my mixed

nigger, nigger, nigger.

Definition: a person of any race
or origin regarded as contemptible,
inferior, ignorant, etc.

A long time ago
I should have had a long talk
with John.

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