“Mattie’s Song”


Mattie stumbles past,

her worn-down life a shuffle

from sad loss-to-loss.*

 

*(Mattie – I never knew her last name – I first came to know near twenty years ago when she was introduced to me by a woman who said the ageless Black woman had worked for her as a maid and a nanny for years, over the past five or six years has been an intermittent appearance by the office – and garden – coming down the street with a two-wheel laundry/shopping cart at first and in the past five or six months a telescoping-handle small luggage bag on tiny wheels, she said she found after her cart hat been stolen.  She used to stop for some vegetables – collards and onions and tomatoes and peppers – when she said she had a small home in which to cook.  And later it came out that she lived on the front porch of someone else’s house – a relative – who let her use the kitchen.  She was waiting for ever-promised government money to move into a home of her own, but despite repeated walks of 20 or more blocks downtown to Social Security and Welfare offices, she remain a vision of a slow-walking elderly Black Lady, dressed all in black, wearing a Sunday-meeting hat (without white gloves) who sometimes stops to chat, asks for a Pepsi by name and sadly shakes her head ruefully when I tell her it’s milk, wine, beer or water – though if she walks by next month Irish whiskey as well – she always declines.  She found the wild garlic bulbs I have been growing in pots for the past three years in an open field by an elementary school a half-mile or so from me.  I now have enough to use and some to share, and when I went back to the school there was none of those wild garlics to be seen.  She will stop and talk in the shade of the oaks but declines a plastic garden chair or even the newly-refurbished white wooden rocking chair and a lunch of salad or soup and whatever is to hand.  God, damn the people who put this woman in this place…and I guess that means me too for not finding a larger place in my heart to see what more I can do.  And she shuffles past with a smile and a wave and a “Hi, Mister J.”)

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