His brown skin came to reveal his inability to kneel,
His inability to hear, and
His inability to fear blows.
Fathers, of which fate dealt him more than one,
whistled their rods against his brown behind,
letting out thwacks like dares, he told me.
He dared back with an unwavering spirit to the last,
wagering that the price of ritual was so severe that
immediate pain, confinement, and scars were small
endurable premiums to pay for autonomy.
His outer layer, not extra thick
was also no magical talisman, no
wild ass’ skin with wish-granting ability;
But it endured season after season,
keeping, deep inside itself, a library —
Not of his worldly knowledge, but its price.
In loose folds under the eyes and
in chevrons pointed away from his mouth
were written his trials and victories.
But everywhere on his skin, smooth or lined,
were signs that he, roasted like a coffee bean
to a rich black-brown, lived.
Yet skin does not tell — and how could it? — how
he entertained me with his hopes for humankind.
Or that the rise to power and his quest for freedom
(first his own, and then his compatriots’) were fated.
He was a man tooled from the ordinary model but not so simple.
And I treasured that as much as the curtain around his being,
loving especially how stubbornness and likely misery, too,
grooved decisively in his brow two left-leaning lines.
For me these lines signalled the doorway to a precinct of peace,
residing where I could at any time index them with my own hand
And, through them, find calm.
Back and forth over the grooves I might still pass if able,
to transit into dimensions where his smiles are still held long.