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Side facade of cottage on Pulaski Street, Tybee Island, Georgia. Homes on this street were formerly barracks for enlisted men when Fort Screven was an active military installation.
Joseph Shields—Getty Images

My mother grew morning glories that spilled onto the walkway toward her porch

Because she was a woman with land who showed as much by giving it color.

She told me I could have whatever I worked for. That means she was an American.

But she’d say it was because she believed

In God. I am ashamed of America

And confounded by God. I thank God for my citizenship in spite

Of the timer set on my life to write

These words: I love my mother. I love black women

Who plant flowers as sheepish as their sons. By the time the blooms

Unfurl themselves for a few hours of light, the women who tend them

Are already at work. Blue. I’ll never know who started the lie that we are lazy,

But I’d love to wake that bastard up

At foreday in the morning, toss him in a truck, and drive him under God

Past every bus stop in America to see all those black folk

Waiting to go work for whatever they want. A house? A boy

To keep the lawn cut? Some color in the yard? My God, we leave things green.


Brown, a Louisiana native, is the author of The New Testament and Please

This story is part of TIME’s August 6 special issue on the American South. Discover more from the issue here.

This appears in the August 06, 2018 issue of TIME.

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