Gerald Barrax

Gerald Barrax

“I try to tell the truth… That never changes, it’s always going to be the challenge.”

Gerald Barrax
Photo: C.B. Claiborne, 1994

Gerald Barrax has been writing poetry since the 1960s. At the time of the 1994 conference, Barrax had published four volumes of poetry, Another Kind of Rain (1970), An Audience of One (1980), The Deaths of Animals and Lesser Gods (1984), and Leaning Against the Sun (1992). He published his last collection of poetry in 1998, From a Person Sitting in Darkness: New and Selected Poems. Barrax is from Atalla, Alabama and served in the U.S. Air Force after attending Duquesne University. He continued his studies at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of North Carolina. In 1983 he won the Callaloo Creative Writing Award for Non-Fiction Prose. Barrax served as an editor for both Callaloo and Obsidian II, and in the mid-1990s was the poet-in-residence at North Carolina University, where he served as as English professor for nearly 30 years.

Jeopardy

How little it takes to break a heart:
In my Winn-Dixie cart, I had the new Fudge Brownie flavor
of Healthy Choice Low Fat Premium Ice Cream;
I had Almaden, Bounty, Canada Dry, Charmin Plus:
I had Coffee-mate and Glade Plug In—
no more than I needed for the express line,
fast-walking past a woman haranguing her four
to stay put at the end of the aisle—
a lovely group portrait of elder daughter and son,
two smaller boys, all brightly neat and starched,
the Black family we’d all like to see,
who seemed there must be a father for.
She harried herself back to the shelf
for the bypassed peanut butter,
proudly assuring them that one more
would drive her crazy.
But I wasn’t walking fast enough
and heard the slap
of fingers on knuckles
breaking them apart, and
“Little boys don’t hold hands!”

I lurched to
a stop
and turned in time
to see the brothers
four and six
side by side
in each other’s ruin
looking up in perfect trust
at their mother.

Indecisive and cowardly, I let her get away.


Sunday, 24 May 1992, 10:30am

I hear the long, hoarse cries
Before I round the corner onto Cooper Road
And into a work in progress by the Old Master:
The young Black woman in white T-shirt, red gym pants,
Half collapsed and staggering as if from a sudden blow,
Holding her head with both hands around the implosion.
A larger woman supports her
Down the sidewalk away from the gray hearse
Backed into the gravel driveway, three men in black
Standing near, hands clasped before them, neighbors in the yard
The front door open.
Two houses down, a Raleigh Blue and White at the curb,
The officers who have done their duty prepare to leave.

From this side of the street a woman in a uniform,
Blue cap, shirt and pants, black vest with orange stripe,
Has emerged from a car and crosses diagonally to the women
Lurching down the sidewalk toward an empty car.

I am on my walk and I walk
On, as I have planned, hearing the long hoarse cries
Awww! Awww! Awww! Go back into the house
Where the dead still lies to receive them.

I know, I know. You’ll be grateful you were here this morning.

In Pittsburgh, my mother rang the bell and rang the bell
For nurse, for doctor, for sons, for someone, God,
Fourteen months and twenty-four days ago, Easter Sunday.
She died before anybody came.