Colored People

When I was growing up
on Folsom Street in West Philadelphia
everyone was colorless
but the world insisted on calling us colored.
There was Mr. Ray the candy store owner
selling happiness in pretzel sticks
two for a penny or peppermint balls
so chilly hard they made your ears pop
if you tried to crack them with your teeth.
Mr. Johnson the grocer across the street
with an open door policy on an ice cream freezer
that held the creamiest fudgecicles
available one a day for just the right “please”
and somehow got paid for by the end of the week.
Mr. Joyner the dry cleaner around the corner
worked miracles behind a big window
shielded by dark green plastic
protecting his labor from sunlight
while concealing his steamy alchemy.
Mr. Moffit the shoe repair man next door
down a magical flight of stairs
into a basement smelling of leather and glue
echoing with the hammering of a self-made man
who just for the asking would nail
silvery metal taps to your shoes
so you could dance down the street
to whatever beat you made up.
Everyone was colorful in those days –
Clydie my best friend, Butch Baker the bully,
Patsy who showed me how to work bubble gum
just right until I could splatter
a pink sphere all over my face.
Only the memories are colored;
not the people because they were real.

From the Paterson Library Review, #28, 1998, Maria M. Gillian, Editor. Available from the Poetry Center, Passaic County Community College, 1 College Blvd., Paterson, NJ 07505-1179.

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