Poetry
Autumn/Winter 2017

The Half Life of Chocolate

(Revisiting the voice of my great grandmother, “Miss Hattie” Brown Nixon) 

by Earl S. Braggs

Photo:
Bree Newsome removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state house grounds, June 27, 2015

I’m 87 years old, if I live to see tomorrow morning’s sun,
I’ll be 88 and still counting Confederate gray pickup trucks,

waving rebel flags, a sight that never did, much, bother me.

You see, I was born in the sun on the outskirts of Charleston

on a little piece of land my father and his father before him sharecropped until “bad” back-taxes broke Daddy’s back.

On the day I came into this world, a white doctor working

part-time at a Colored hospital tied 13 stars and 2 bars around

my neck and sent me and Mama home. Heritage and hate,

since then, I have gracefully worn, natural as a lamb’s wool

winter coat in winter or a light cotton, summer, church skirt

in August. August knows my dark skin is admired far more

than it is hated, but secrets are kept silent for a reason. Treason seasons of moonshine love, the relationship between boundaries

and beauty, the sweet texture of bitter chocolate. Ancestors that

built plantations here are “My people.” They planted and picked

ten million bales of cotton. Then wide, white brims of plantation

white hats sold their nigger-harvest for billions in dollar bill signs.

But, my ancestors were paid, each chocolate one of then given two or three thin slices of thin-love bacon per square acre and a dead-

deal mule. The arithmetic of America wants not to know more,

the score. Secrets are kept secret for a reason, but the science of

storytelling tells us the half-life of chocolate is short. Colored people in America live half in shadow, half on Sunshine street. Chocolate

melts so quickly in fields of summer, coastal South Carolina heat.

I’m 87 years old. When I was young, I was a school teacher. I taught

arithmetic, so I know how to count Confederate bumper stickers

on the bumpers of “Republican” colored cars and deer-hunting

pickup trucks and I have seen my share of Klansmen, women,

and little cute children march to the beat and banner of heritage

and hate. I even met the late James Strom Thurmond years before the people knew his real history was not his real history at all. Y’all

think it’s a grand thing to take down the Confederate flag flying

over Columbia, the capitol of our great slave state and I suppose

it is, but a flag pole has no feelings and wind that blows the unfurled does not care if it shares the Confederate gray sky with Confederate

redbirds or not. The sky does not ask why. What y’all should do is leave the Confederate Battle flag up, unfurling its crossed out, X-ed

out breeze and ease the Stars and Bars, the Confederate Battle flag down from around my neck. It’s hard to choke a flag pole to death. 

Edward Earl S. Braggs is a UC Foundation and Battle Professor of English at the University of TN at Chattanooga. Braggs is the author of eleven collections of poetry. Negro Side of the Moon is his latest. Among his many awards are Anhinga Poetry Prize, Jack Kerouac International Literary Prize, and Gloucester County Poetry Prize. Braggs’ novel Looking for Jack Kerouac was a finalist for the James Jones First Novel Contest. 

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