Since my soul now rests under the fallen bricks of my dead brothers and sisters, God I ask you: What can I tell my beautiful black son? His eyes twinkle like the Northern star they used to follow back when they tried to escape the cottonfield. You’re looking for the freedom I can’t tell you about. I stare at my soul, that bleeds red and blue like the police lights that dance on the concrete. I didn’t want this for you. Walking around the streets with your too big “in memory” shirt trying to think of better memories of your daddy besides the slight frown on his face when he died. Being the man of the house before you even know how to tie your own damn shoes, Lord knows I didn’t ask for this. Nights where you sit and wait on a red barstool for me to finish my shift. You drool on your homework; your clothes smell more and more like burnt bacon and overcooked waffles. Your lullabies be that white 80s rom-com music muffled in the speakers. So what can I tell you, standing on blistered feet? My son, they see your skin as dark as pieces of old gum clogged with dirt on subway station floors. Mr. Officer won’t tell you your brain is faster than the speed of light; your skin is as radiant as your soul. No, my son, you’ll be the one that they peek through the aisles for, staying in yours a little longer in case you try to slip something in the pocket of your hoodie.
Get out of town where the only thing that drowns out the noise of gunshots is police sirens. Those same shades of red and blue painting your walls. Don’t learn to drive. I know his will said the Jeep would be yours when you got of age, but I still haven’t managed to get the bloodstains out. I’m scared. You’re getting older. Almost 16. Your smooth skin is getting darker and you got little hairs on your lip and chin. When you get that little piece of plastic with your face you’ll get pulled over because all they see is him.
You love staying out late in the summertime even after I told you to be in the house by 11. You love playing basketball underneath those rusted street lights, glimmering with sweat and dodging through the green glimmer of the fireflies. But you also know how those officers come around. They’ll make all of you stop. Sweat will drip into your eyes and the reflection of their flashlights will nearly blind you. They come up close, ask you what you’re doing. You say just playing ball. They don’t believe it. They get up close, shining their white lights onto your ebony lips. Your nostrils flare and your eyes start twitching because you know Rico and the rest have been smoking. I know you took a puff too. They get so close y’all breathing in the same air. They think the darkness on your lips is from the joint you were just smoking. They don’t know your Daddy’s lips were the same color. Or maybe they just don’t care. When they ask you again and you finally let the smoke scented breath mix with theirs, they kick you to the ground, your lips cutting against the concrete. They got your arm locked behind your back so tight you feel your arm might dislocate. Hell, if it did, that wouldn’t even matter to them. But they let you off this time. The next time they locking you up. Not Rico whose skin is so light he could pass for ElDebarge, you. The dark-skinned who is blacker than a bag of coal you. You come home throwing your basketball against the brick walls of the house, trying to figure out why it keeps happening. Why they won’t just let you live.
I don’t want that to get you. You’ll spend your whole life looking into that dirty toothpaste and spit spotted mirror, thinking about Daddy. When you shave and let those hairs fall like snowflakes onto the white countertop you’ll remember what that night was like. I don’t want him to make you hate the world you live in, the world that started with people who looked like you and me. He’ll make you think you’re not special like it’s their privilege for you to exist. I know you’re wondering if freedom was supposed to feel like this. If you were supposed to live with your hands up, a white flag of surrender pressed around your chest. Get up. When I look into your eyes, I see that star. I see that blue halo around your iris that looks at the TV and wonders if there’s something more. The world is yours, my beautiful black son. Don’t live like me. Don’t cry so much every night that you have tattoed tears on swollen cheeks. Live my beautiful black son. You are more than a broken soul with pieces still scattered somewhere in a cottonfield.