When My Alabama

starts to show     when I think     almost
say     what I was taught     growing up
growing up white    in Alabama means

you grow up     believing you are better     
a gravel driveway led to my house     
surrounded    no     protected by the woods     

we had a cast-iron gate     an entrance     
laid with stone     our name engraved     
as if my father meant to show our Alabama

our money like a flag     there are so many
words I said to fit in     in my Alabama
those words a noose    waiting to be tied

when my Alabama is an instrument of death     
to anyone not white     when I’m taught how
to become     if I become     my father

what my father     is     his hands tying the knot     
the hangman’s knot     tightening the rope     
my whiteness was     is an instrument

of death     when my Alabama is my Alabama
I leave the state     wanting to erase
each magnolia flower    burning atop the water

like a paper lantern that never     rose to the sky
the pond in front of my parent’s house
down a foot     in the heat of the summer

when each pine gave me shade     but I knew
the cost of each branch     each pine growing
taller each year with me     until one year

I did not recognize the woods     that once
held tree forts     made from lumber my father
threw out     those places I made to make myself

feel safe     I had the privilege of privacy
but when my Alabama is     no longer
my Alabama     when I want to leave

what I’ve already left     I can’t escape my soil     
my dirt     but I can do better     I must
my Alabama can’t be     entirely forsaken

not yet     my terrible beautiful love     my Alabama     
I can’t sing      my mouth a cannon     my mouth
a cannon stuffed full of daisies     still a cannon

still capable of violence despite the beauty
I can hear    the music my Alabama it plays to me
but there is no place on this earth I can

run from my own prejudice     I am rebuilding
the engine of my head     but no longer
from the same parts     to keep the Pelham

out of my brain     and my brain out of
my mouth     when my Alabama is an instrument
I can’t forget     how to play     I know I can

only hear the music if I listen     when
I listen     I must listen to overlay the song
I was taught     with the song I must pass on

each note plucked on barbed wire     is full of rust     
the banjo must be restrung    and new
notes written     behind no gates    no violence

my ear against the dirt     I must listen
no matter how loud the song gets     I must
listen when my Alabama     calls me home

Read on . . .

A New National Anthem,” a poem by Ada Limón