When someone else tells the story,
they forget to mention the cotton sock, black
and worn. Mom darned it in three places;
Dad used it as an eraser.
I never leave out the part
about his teaching
us numbers. When to add.
How to subtract.
He set up a blackboard in the back-
yard and wrote math problems on it. He even invited
the neighborhood kids. We earned a piece
of penny candy for each one we got right.
Four and five-year-old Black boys
standing at the blackboard doing math
and hoping never to need the eraser,
hoping to earn a taste of a Tootsie Roll.
Back then I didn't know the whole story.
How Mom and Dad sat at the Formica table
in our yellow kitchen as he counted his jobs
and the money from each one while Mom mended
the holes in our socks. We slept upstairs
and never worried or counted sheep,
knowing they'd always fix the holes,
at least until we learned to do the math ourselves.