Mrs., your daughter fits Fifty-Fourth and Vine
Father, your address is Fifty-Sixth and so is mine
Mrs., more than eight blocks four times a day—
Father, here, at lunch time she can stay—
Mrs., we encourage no such program.
Father, she can take the bus to and from.
Mrs., for you Vine Street is truly close.
Father, Market is busy and dangerous to cross.
Mrs., Chestnut Street is our limit—
Father, that’s where we live! We’re on it!
Mrs., we stop at the south. You live on the north side—
Father, do you sit and say my child must ride
Or walk into a totally foreign postal zone?
Mrs., the wrong side of the street is your home.
Hyperbole or word for word,
The same score, whatever overheard:
A chilly man with a chilly vote.
Not even Mother’s master stroke
Could budge that unsmiling priest,
Wire-rimmed, with a sharp, sallow face.
In the universal church, I’m a homeless member.
Weeks before third-grade September,
We’re kicked out the South Philly projects!
Daddy’s ex-Army pay, a wink beyond limits.
But suburban splendor Mother spied,
Plopped me down and boldly lied
To another priest with a false address
Miles from the redlined parish.
Years puzzling to myself—How’d she do it? Pick
A complete stranger, a Negro Catholic
Down the street from church? Mother had her ways.
The woman’s name is lost—even her face,
More mist than flesh: a pleasant ginger-brown.
The twin boys—or girls—Was she their mom?
All day Mother stayed nearby—Nobody had a hunch?
And took me to a diner up the hill for lunch.
Even in the freezing winter? No. By then we returned
To Elmwood—Where everything burned?
No. To Anyemma’s—All school year? No. We got
Back to West Philly before it was hot—Not
Darby parish? No.—You lied three times third grade?
It was a secret, Mother said—Were you afraid?
*In the 1950s in West Philadelphia, Transfiguration of Our Lord, at 56th and Cedar Avenue, served an established white congregation. Our Lady of Victory, at 54th and Vine, was dominated by black parishioners, many of whom had converted to Catholicism because of the perceived superiority of parochial schools. Darby’s Blessed Virgin Mary served whites, many in a new suburban housing development.
First poetry editor of two pioneer feminist magazines, Aphra and Ms., Yvonne has received several awards including NEAs for poetry (1974, 1984) and a Leeway (2003) for fiction (as Yvonne ChismPeace). Print publications featuring her poems include: Bryant Literary Review, Pinyon, Nassau Review 2019, Bosque Press #8, Foreign Literary Journal #1, Quiet Diamonds 2018 (Orchard Street), 161 One-Minute Monologues from Literature (Smith and Kraus), This Sporting Life (Milkweed), Bless Me, Father: Stories of Catholic Childhood (Plume), Catholic Girls (Plume/Penguin), Tangled Vines (HBJ), Celebrations: A New Anthology of Black American Poetry (Follett), Pushcart Prize Anthology, and We Become New (Bantam). Excerpts from her verse memoir can be found online at American Journal of Poetry, AMP, Tiny Seed Literary Journal, Poets Reading the News, Rigorous, Headway Quarterly, Collateral, the WAIF Project, Brain Mill Press’s Voices, Cahoodaloodaling, and Edify Fiction. More excerpts are forthcoming in Ragweed, Colere, Stonecrop, Beautiful Cadaver, Quiet Diamonds 2019 and Home: An Anthology (Flexible Press). She was an Atrocious Poets-One City, One Poet Contest finalist.