"APOLOGY TO A LIMA BEAN"
Dear Lima...or would you rather
I call you Mr. Bean?
If you have an ear or ears
to me I wish they'd lean
I used to treat you so unkind
and acted not but hateful
No fault was yours for now you see
I eat you by the platefull
So please accept these words of praise
for every word I meaniest
of all the beans I've ever known
you are the Lima Beaniest
"Call me Israel."
It was our first meeting. "Israel Davis," he said sticking out a rather bony hand.
He was just a kid compared to me but I felt an immediate affinity for him. Since he was a new employee, I was his superior only by time spent on the job and was assigned to instruct him as I had done many others.
What could a young black man in his twenties and a white woman of nearly forty possibly have in common?
We lived in the same neighborhood for one thing. I was living in a hundred dollar a month, one room apartment in an old house, which Israel informed me was considered to be in a "bad neighborhood" in a "dangerous" part of town.
He only lived five blocks away so it didn't take long for us to decide that carpooling would be advantageous to us both. We had two clunkers between us, which soon dilapidated into one clunker...mine. His wife had a high-end clunker that she used to get to her job, so Israel paid me for gas and I drove us back and forth to work...on the good days.
Somehow we managed to get to work every day and slowly became comfortable and at ease with one another. We began stopping at McDonald's almost every morning. The one on our way to work had no drive through so we always went in. I would get in one line and he in another, then we'd pile back into the car and crank our way to work.
One morning as we were leaving McDonald's he said to me casually, "I didnt have to pay for my coffee or Egg McMuffin." After a few rounds of, Oh, you did too!" and "no I didn't"s. I relented and asked him how that could be. "I almost never pay if it's busy in there," he bragged.
His sparse explanation made it no more believable to me so he challenged me to watch him the next morning. "You'll see, he grinned"
If I saw Israel on the street I would probably assign all types of untoward behavior to him. The whites of his eyes were yellow and blood shot most of the time. He was extremely thin, almost emaciated looking and his clothes seemed to just hang without concern as to whether they actually touched his body.
But I didn't need to make any such judgments, he was employed where I was and no matter his physical condition, he was not the street person he imitated in appearance. And I liked him.
This was before the days of ultra automation that is currently in effect at McDonalds. Someone would bring your order to the counter when it was ready and at that time the cashier would accept your money. I kept Israel in my peripheral vision the next morning as he placed his order. Once placed, he stepped to the side of the line so others could be waited on. Soon his order was brought to the counter and then I don't know exactly what happened. It was as though he just evaporated. One minute he was there and the next he was waiting for me by the door.
"I'm invisible" was his excuse to me as we got into the car. "What does that mean?" I asked. I was incredulous. How had he done that? "I mean it, he repeated, I'm invisible."
After much probing and prodding he finally revealed that he believed his blackness made him invisible to whites. "And," I quizzed, "with
no little help from you?" The answer was obvious to me before I asked. He used this to his advantage and even helped it along. I watched him work his black magic several more times before I tried to convince him to start paying.
But to my own amazement I was not so much shocked by his stealing as I was by the fact that it was so easy to accomplish. No hold up, no guns or threats...just a quiet retreat into his own blackness leaving the white world to take care of itself.
This was the seventies...we were all equal now. No more segregation no more hatred between the races. no more prejudices
How appalling to discover... the white whale lives.
Copyright © Cathy Voit 2000
What's in a Dream
Last night I dreamed of death again
the men who died I've never known
wielded weapons I've never owned
and lived in foreign lands, yet when
the bullets broke and found their mark
and figures fell to scar the streets
their bloodied brains lay at my feet
in death my kinsmen, cried my heart
Death's path I knew would cross my own
so fast as one fear driven can,
in dread of Death, I ran and ran
till haven reached, at last, a home.
In haste I entered, closed the door
then stopped and stood to breathe relief
which caught within my throat with grief
when seeing there upon the floor
were strewn the skeletons and skulls
of those who'd sometime run before
and thought, "there's safety in these walls"
And thinking this, they closed the door.
Watch a seed carefully planted
with loving sun kept warm
struggle through the soils crust
to perfection, newly born.
See standing with the others
an eager, questioning form
Reaching towards the heavens
with trust as yet unworn
Must this blade too be cut down by
A HIGH POWERED, ELECTRIC...