Even the machines missed the bodies
on their first scans because machines can
play chess, play the piano, play
the market, but they can't learn to lie
like a magician, never learned how to make a body
vanish and make the crowd applaud the departure
of that body, name, footsteps
that told the family that body was walking
through the front door in time for dinner.
The plantation will turn
into a school. Torture becomes teachable
moments. Lead Belly becomes CCR.
But every good trick desires
an illusion, so our wide eyes will swear
they see the ghost of the accountant's assistant smiling
while he watches a little black girl sweat
over a calculus midterm. We will swear
there's a ghost in the locker room
watching little boys of all colors—
chalk, cream, and coffee-black—trade dick
jokes before practice. We will swear
there's a chorus of ghost hands clapping
at graduation while the valedictorian
gives a speech about the work
ethic she learns from her father
by watching him rise up from the dead
of night to go work two jobs.
We'll swear we saw those ghosts smile
one last time before they bathe themselves
in the Lethe-soaked light of oblivion.
But those ghosts know
every trick the country has ever played.
Those ghosts aren't in any hurry to leave.
They need to know why we left them
on this plantation when we could've imagined them
anywhere else. They need to know why we keep talking
about work when there are 95 funeral songs that need
singing. They need to know what else are we
willing to share after sharing an article
or a solidarity emoji. And they need
to know if Viola Davis or Octavia Spencer
will play the one black woman forgotten
in these 95 boxes of black bones
and they need to know how we believe in 95 ghosts
being only 95 ghosts and they need to know
how we ever learned to walk
in a country where every sidewalk is a lost graveyard.
They need to know how we ever managed
to turn something so rotten into something so sweet.