when a black girl-child sees death for the first time

Cai Rodrigues-Sherley | Poetry

what do you do when a black girl-child (& for now s/he
is a black girl-child) sees death for the first time in the
middle of your math class? when she becomes a
pomegranate, tender & violent & bursting, a baby bird, a
calf already full of blood & this worst knowing. your
fifth-grade class has been studying terracotta ghosts &
mercury, emperors who fed sons to their own fathers,
deaths made sickeningly sweet. the great wall is a mass
grave & it is fall in new england & you prayed no one
would notice & now there is a black girl-child flooding
your classroom & death is smiling & building a boat in
the corner & the child is mourning the emperor’s former
lover’s son & grieving the loss of herself & what can you
do? you have taught her to count solar rotations without
using her fingers, pointed out Birmingham, Alabama on
a map & told her how the crab apple trees grow, what
fruits can be eaten & which should be left to rot & now
she is slowly dying in the middle of your classroom & no
one is learning their timetables & her black death is
swallowing you & your curriculum whole & you are just
a nice white lady & you have done your job & what more
can you do but tell her to close her eyes, to look away &
teach biology & geography & math & english & quiet &
quiet & other things that have never saved a black child
from an early grave?