Lakeview, Chicago. Summer of ’91.
“…how do you uproot something that’s already taken hold?” Historian, Arnold Hirsch, on failed attempts to remedy segregation in Chicago.
One simmering afternoon, he blocks your path
with an open paw. Tells you he’s a panther escaped
from Lincoln Park Zoo. He bleeds papaya juice,
pees coconut water, shits burnt sugar cane.
Tells you his claws are tree branches that won’t stop
growing. His tail was eaten by a boa constrictor
and he’s afraid of fire and water and trees
and the #36 bus. Tells you he’ll marry you
for $3 in quarters and a pack of Marlboro Lights.
Nappy tufts blast atop his head, shroud his cheeks.
Think Sula’s Shadrack. Make him barefoot,
six foot four, wearing nothing but a sweat-stained
burlap sack and you have Burlap Man.
One bright night, as your darks tumble and you fold
your whites, you see him stopping traffic, like a moon
walking tree, on Halstead, waving his sack high in the air.
You join a crowd to hear him belting out Black or White
to heavy honks, beep-beeps and cat calls,
his privates jangling like tropical fruit.
As sirens shimmy and shout towards the street
party, he gets down on all fours and crawls away,
never to be seen again.