After Richmond Burned

The sun rose, red as a welt
over the charred brick
facade of a ruined mill,
its windows gaping like eye sockets
above a business district
that would be rebuilt to take in
my great-grandfather from Bavaria,
who was swept up, black hat in hands,
at the unveiling of Robert E. Lee's statue.
He put a Rebel flag in his lapel
to trade with the wounded and the proud
until the Depression spit out his business,
sent him off the third-story balcony,
and my grandfather, shame-faced,
to the tobacco factory, suffocating humidity,
his breath an ember in his throat.
My mother stirred rationed sugar
into her tea—the bag always re-used—
with monogrammed silver spoons.
At my school, Afros bloomed
like strange mushrooms around me—
get lost, white girl,
in the asphalt heat on the playground;
keep going past the camellia bushes
in my mother's yard overgrown,
at supper every night, her face like concrete;
across the Huguenot Bridge, the metal railing where I fell
in love with the roar and vertigo of the James River;
the dance hall where I skulked in the raucousness
after my boyfriend left, wandered Broad Street,
chicken and ribs joints, vacant
lots where I wove through cones in driver's ed
until I learned enough to speed
away, camshaft churning everything
slammed inside
my car heading north.