They will always come for me, and I will always
providing nurture though not related by blood or legal ties
Now that we all live in separate
foster homes, that breakfast is the only time of the week all eight of us can be together.
make jokes or witty remarks
“Ow!” Philbert staggers around the lot, pretending a serious head injury.
“Who’s the bonehead now?” I
light teasing repartee
“No,” I say, “that was a new one. I moved so fast, you didn’t even see me. Just call me Lightning Little.”
Philbert straightens his shoulders, leaning into the
banter. “Oh, I’ve got a better name for you...”
move haltingly and unsteadily
The bus shimmies and shakes and finally
remove with or as with a power shovel
I stood by the window, watching the lingering cloud of dust
dredged up by the car tires as the government people drove off.
censure severely or angrily
“You, too, Malcolm,” Mom
chided me gently. I came away from the window to join my brothers and sisters in studying.
a publication that appears at fixed intervals
She went about her business, sitting at the table writing an article for her
periodical, a furrow of fierce concentration on her face.
a slight depression in the smoothness of a surface
She went about her business, sitting at the table writing an article for her periodical, a
furrow of fierce concentration on her face.
wear off or die down
I closed my eyes and let the sound of her voice wash over me, but the heartbeat of worry in my chest wouldn’t
governmental provision of assistance to persons in need
Back then we’d never heard of
welfare. Papa took care of everything. He built our house with his own hands, and Mom’s vegetable garden fed us year-round.
marked by balance or equilibrium and readiness for action
Mom sat still, pen
poised in hand, eyes fixed on her papers.
deficient in amount or quality or extent
It was supposed to be a moment to thank God for the nourishment before us, but through my cracked eyelids, the
meager offering didn’t look like much to be thankful for.
the dead and rotting body of an animal; unfit for human food
My mind streamed, full of thoughts; I could feel the government people circling like
carrion birds. We were still alive, and yet they circled. Lying in wait.
a small amount of solid food; a mouthful
“Yes, Mom,” we mumbled. I drew my hands back, coming away with the last
morsel of my bread.
showing a brooding ill humor
Philbert chomped through the rest of his own meal, freshly silent.
collect or look around for, as food
Across the table, Mom dipped her spoon delicately into her bowl of
foraged greens, as though she were eating a gourmet meal.
a wrapped package
The store guy looked at us a little funny when I laid the money out on the counter. Lately, he was used to us coming around for the welfare
hang over, as of something threatening, dark, or menacing
loomed over us finally. “Come with me.” She grabbed each of us by an ear and marched us straight down the road into town.
a loose coverall that protects the clothes
She wore a thicker, darker
smock than the one Mom would come home wearing.
someone who makes or mends clothes
She must have been the shop owner or at least the head
estimate the nature, quality, ability or significance of
Her gaze flicked up and down,
appraising Mrs. Stockton.
move hesitatingly, as if about to give way
faltered. Her brow furrowed. She swallowed hard.
refuse to comply
The head seamstress
balked, looking from Mom to us. “These are your children?”
brief and to the point
curtly. She stepped toward Mrs. Stockton, who had released our ears and now stood with her hands over her mouth.
commodities offered for sale
In the parking lot, I found a farmer’s pickup truck, chock-full of farm-related
move unobtrusively or furtively
sidled up to the truck. The closest crate was right on the edge, beneath a bundle of rope.
the quality of being definitely settled
“You can’t take him,” Mom said. “You can’t.”
The man slapped his portfolio closed. The soft smack screamed
finality. “The foster home is only half a mile away. He won’t be far.”
a ludicrous or grotesque act done for fun and amusement
Maybe it had been me causing this trouble all along. All my
antics. I was the problem, the one who couldn’t do right, no matter what.
a slight but appreciable amount
“Yeah, I reckon it’s getting a
laborer who extracts ores and minerals
There’s another Negro on the bus now, an old coal
miner on his way back to Philadelphia.
a consoling aspect of a difficult situation
“Well, at least you’re out of the sun down there,” I say.
He laughs. “I reckon. So you’re a
silver-lining kind of lad, huh?”
marked by skill in deception
He hoots with laughter. “You’re a
wily one. You must be trouble.”
cause great unhappiness for
They would speak together with Papa about the tragic lynchings of young black men and women, and other challenges
afflicting the black community.
arrogant or self-important
“I know.” I hear the nervousness in his breath. Don’t get
uppity. Don’t get out of line.
sorrow for sin arising from fear of damnation
There’s a fierce expression in his eyes, tucked behind a thick layer of
contrition. I only see it because I’m sitting.
spreading out in different directions
He gathers his things and moves across the aisle to join me in my seat. I squish myself against the window. He’s not a huge man, but big enough to stop me from
sprawling the way I have been.
reflect deeply on a subject
“What can you really be?” Mr. Ostrowski
mused. “A carpenter? You’re good with your hands, I think. That’s respectable work, carpentry.”
cause to separate and go in different directions
A cloud of dust rose as they drove Mom away from us. The usual cloud that turned the air brown and silty, but this time it failed to
rise and move, as in waves
Neither Wilfred nor Hilda came out to the porch, so I sat there, long after the thick
billowing exhaust fumes faded into the white landscape.
make less visible or unclear
In the cold air, I caught a whiff of the promise of fresh snow; soon it would
obscure my footsteps leading away.
lacking lightness or liveliness
“Surely was,” the old miner says in a
leaden voice. “Until they strung him up.”
cause a thick or hard area of skin to form on
He reaches out with a
callused hand and covers my eyes.
kill without legal sanction
There might not have been a rope, but it was a
lynching all the same.
lynched Earl. Didn’t even have the courage to do it outright.
thickly covered with ingrained dirt or soot
I look away from the window, straight forward at the
dingy gray back of the seat in front of me.