Outside my window, a brutal winter burn has curled
rhododendron leaves to clusters of tight brown wilts.
Tobacco-colored, they hang where white lilacs and pink
azaleas blush to spring’s myth of resurrection. A maple
sapling sprouts erect amidst a snarling tangle of bare branches
as I wait for the droops to uncoil. Why this hopefulness?
Soft tinted postcards of sagging corpses lynched
by mobs in Elk’s Arch, Prichard, Springfield, Waco, Texas,
mix and crossfade my sight in broad daylight like scenes
from America’s PowerPoint show of perversity. At Duke,
an undergrad tweets an obscene noose to friends, seen
by millions to “come and hang out with us.” Spooked
while driving in Virginia, a friend once swore
the roadside litter in oaks and pines flapping white plastic bags
were coded messages marking a new race war.
Whiteness is never having to question the history of trees.
When I search this morning “How to Revive a Dying
Rhododendron,” Youtube recommends the speeches
of Rev. Louis Farrakhan, Holiday’s “Black Bodies Swinging.”
Major Jackson is the author of four collections of poetry: Roll Deep (2015, Norton); Holding Company (2010, Norton); Hoops (2006, Norton); and Leaving Saturn (2002, University of Georgia Press). Holding Company and Hoops were both selected as finalists for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry; and Leaving Saturn, awarded the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first book of poems, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. He has published poems and essays in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Callaloo, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Poetry, Tin House, and in Best American Poetry (2004, 2011). He is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and has been honored by the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress.