Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: African American History Month

There is a pain — so utter —

Emily Dickinson suggests there’s a pain that’s better left lying, almost forgotten. Else it would destroy the victim, one painful piece at a time. My comments follow her poem.

There is a pain – so utter –
It swallows substance up –
Then covers the Abyss with Trance –
So Memory can step
Around – across – upon it –
As one within a Swoon –
Goes safely – where an open eye –
Would drop Him – Bone by Bone.

c. 1862

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Emily suggests that in spite of extreme pain, we get by thanks to Trance. Like a bandage, Trance covers the wound and the depth of our pain so that Memory can walk safely around or over it. Our eyes are spared the full extent of our pain.

Emily likely has her own pain in mind. In fact, this poem raises again the possibility that someone victimized her when she was a young woman. If so, perhaps her poem is one way of dealing with the horror of seeing (feeling, remembering, reliving) what happened to her. Bone by Bone. One terrifying moment after another. The slow-motion dismemberment of a human spirit, a human being.

Yet this pain is also generic. Not simply something that happened to Emily, but what happens to each of us and all of us. Individually and together. In a thousand permutations.

Perhaps we’re in a Swoon, awake just enough to navigate each day without being brought down by our pain, living in Trance mode. Semi-reality. Semi-truth. Which amounts to untruth, and thus unreality.

I think of the USA and our preference for letting pain lie deep underground while we make our way across and around it. As though it never happened or weren’t that important. Slavery has caused unrecorded, unheard pain to millions. Yet here we are in African American History Month, still unable as a nation, beginning with our leaders, to face this history face-on, with eyes wide open.

We find ways to get by without acknowledging the depth and horror of this and other examples of our national pain. Yet it’s right beneath our feet. Beneath the surface history of our current state of disunion. It seems we’re living in a national epidemic of Trance. We get  by, or so we think, without acknowledging the depth and horror of our pain.

Emily seems to have personal pain in mind. Yet personal pain feeds on and adds to our collective pain. As a nation we like to think we’ve come a long way, and are now beyond the worst. Nonetheless, I see us living the sad and sorry outcomes of unexamined pain lying just beneath the surface of Trance.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 February 2018
Image found at

From my house to colored town

From my house to colored town in the 1950s,
A short half-mile drive, walk or ride on my bike.

Until I began high school, we drove through it every day.
When I began high school I walked to the corner of colored town
to catch the whites-only bus to a whites-only high school.
Until I was 14 I rode my bike to the corner and turned right
every time I went riding around the rural white neighborhood.

The road I turned onto made a big loop past dense trees and shrubs
hiding big houses on the river, No Trespassing signs posted everywhere.
I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike through colored town.
I didn’t want to. It felt like trespassing.  I wasn’t afraid.
But I wasn’t comfortable, either. I knew I was an outsider.

Colored town wasn’t hidden away in the shrubs or trees.
Most houses were lined up one right after another
along both sides of the narrow paved road.
No sidewalks, right of way or long driveways.
Just huge water oaks overshadowing a narrow rural road.

I was shocked and disturbed by what I saw.
Everything from simple, sometimes patched together houses
of wood and metal, some unpainted, to a handful of
more stable, sometimes unpainted concrete-block houses.
Some with small stoops.  No fancy porches.

Easier to live in during warm weather; a stretch in the cold.
Most had chimneys, some didn’t. Some had electricity, some didn’t.
Windows and roofs could be sketchy, patched with metal and cardboard.
There were usually children running around.
Sometimes I could smell what was cooking for dinner.

I got used to it, but I didn’t get comfortable with it.
I felt awkward driving by and having people stare
at us and our car. What were they thinking?
My little girl heart went out to them. We drove slowly.
Every now and then a young child would smile and wave.

Public high school meant riding the yellow bus for white kids.
It also meant leaving our house early in the morning
so I could walk the half mile and not miss the bus.
I liked walking.  I didn’t like standing at the corner
just outside someone else’s house, waiting for the bus.

This was colored town. I always felt like a trespasser.
Partly because I was standing in front of someone else’s house.
But mostly because it seemed my eyes were trespassing,
seeing private things, private property, the lives of others
who hadn’t invited me to visit them today.

One morning I smelled the aftermath of a fire.
When I got to the corner, the first house in colored town
didn’t exist anymore.  Charred remains, smoke still in the air,
an eery silence.  No walls, no children, no food cooking.
The death of a family’s private space in an unprivate setting.

My mind raced with questions I couldn’t answer.
Neither could either of my parents.
Where did the family go? What about all their clothes?
There weren’t even any people around looking at it.
It was here just yesterday.  Gone overnight.

The tavern sat at the other end of colored town,
perhaps a quarter of a mile from where I caught the school bus.
The rural neighborhood was different on the other side,
thanks to the tavern and its late night services for customers.
It burned down years ago, taking many secrets with it.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 February 2015

A Lesson in Deep South Manners

I don’t even remember her name. Her mother, Mrs. Jeaudon (called by her first name), was the cook and household helper for Dr. and Mrs. Turner.  Mr. Jeaudon (called by his first name) took care of the yard work around their house. Read the rest of this entry »

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