Is total red wound
Bathing around our red feet.
Is red silence
Of years of red lips
Spitting red fog from the red-stained
Glass suburbs covering what we want
To turn red below.
Birmingham, Iron City, is the red cardinal male
& his majesty taking the red air for granted
& his freedom to go where
Red berries grow.
Birmingham is bright
Red, is dull with red.
When I inherited you,
There were those who flushed red,
Called it a blessing. & when I grew beside your red creek beds,
& when I put on a red jumper for school pictures
To send in red Christmas cards, I felt red with joy.
In school I read my history,
Sat ready to take in my veins the lines of a flag I was pledging
Allegiance to with red candy on my tongue.
I was happy to be holy, to paint my nails
With holy woman red, so I could stand
Among the Crimson Tide red t-shirts as they bulged beside
Their cars flashing red, their motors revving red, not turning
Red with rust as they tinseled streets, Starbucks to steeple.
(Once you see red, you cannot un-see red, once you taste the penny
In your mouth, you cannot un-taste red, once red paints
Your panties red, you cannot wash out red.)
At twelve, when I first bled, my mother said, try not to show
The red, wrap it in tissue, so no one can see the red. Ordinary red,
Not polite red.
But red was all about. Always there was red. Where I saw red lips
Were wives. Wives redressing their lips for men who rubbed their
Bellies full of red meat, wives painting their children’s cheeks with
Birthday balloon red, wives painting their own cheeks clown-nose red
For men who thumbed red letters on beer cans that contorted
Love into stop sign red, into belt-whip red.
Always there was red.
Brick college red applauded red-faced men who told us
We needed them to be well-read. Red pen corrected us by day while red tears
Fell from our legs at night when red letterman jackets spread us apart.
Where I saw red barrettes, I saw girls riding red
Bikes along the red-lines of school districts, through forests of holly innocence,
Sweaters picked open by backyard branches, heels ruby-blistered
In afternoon red.
Where I saw red, I saw girls poppy-field drunk,
Not clicking heels because home was away
But here, on us, in us, in the sweat of tomato sandwiches
On a Dr. Pepper day.
But where there were girls in a red state, there were women
Becoming. & the poison oak days of adolescence.
Where my blood was red, I saw it write horoscopes
On the covers of Cosmo.
& where maps mapped us in difference, I heard
White communities picking at jokes
About KFC red, do-rag red until breaths hushed
In the red valentine of one month
Of national recognition.
Nobody knew how to talk about all the reds,
So we stuck poinsettias around our doors, called them
Charity & fundraiser, & sprinkled deviled-eggs
With paprika, in Birmingham, Iron City,
Where blood baptized a bomb
In the basement of a church.
What do we know of red?
What land is my red, what land is yours?
What great is there in red?
What happens if we listen to it,
Look at it, all the torches blazing red,
Between church & state, where red defines
& destructs, where red is subverted until red is neat
With red, where health for a body is cherry-picked,
When love for a body is cherry-popped?
Red are the books,
That christen the laps
Of the Birmingham, Iron City Sunday people.
Red is the seal that colors the inside cover
Of a Birmingham student’s biology text, wherein
The Alabama State Board of Education inserts,
“The theory of evolution by natural selection
Is a controversial theory…”
(Once you read red, you cannot un-read red, once you taste the penny
On your tongue, you cannot un-taste red, once red is in your words,
You are leashed to red, you cannot un-speak red.)
For a school trip, we board a bus, we pack a lunch,
& we take the red-logo crunch of our Lay’s potato chip bag
To sit at Moundville on the graves of Indigenous women & men.
We say, Here, & only here, is where lived the old people of Alabama.
We say, these graves they made themselves! Just look at their homes by the ruddy
River! Just imagine how florid were their rituals!
We say, kind archaeologists discovered their red pottery,
&, look here, they placed it behind glass,
&, get in line here, this is where we pay
For our red tickets to the red-tent show! & we climb
The rustic stairs, stomp red Nike checks
On the sacred hills of their dead. &, then, we go home
To our parents to tell them our proud story,
& they are glad we are not red-faced with questions
Because they don’t know more than a patriotic
Day-trip to this grave either.
Next morning, we go to our red-swing-set backyards to dig
Our nail-bitten hands into the dirt, hunting feverishly for the pink-quartz
Of an arrowhead. & we don’t know yet,
But we are hot-eared with curiosity
For the wicked red tale we inherited,
A palatable crime-novel mystery—the “disappearance”
Of red. & we dream of our name in red, on a marquee,
When we will become the young girl
Who, in her own backyard, one band-aided knee later,
Found the artifact & “rescued” the lineage of red.
Red is the question of this land & family,
As you sit well-fed, in a big chair on a Sunday afternoon,
Running your hand over the red felt of your grandfather’s
Shriner’s hat, as your mother walks in,
Saying she’d like you to have her mother’s
Garnet earrings, as your mother walks in, saying she’d like you to have
Any heirloom at all, in this city that is built
On false-ally & cold alloy,
That was taken, that wears the proud-iron
Histories of what was poured
By others’ hands, so many bodies
Drained of red.