Jason McCall

Montgomery, 1998

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
the first lessons I learn in 7th grade are I can’t
say nigger too loud and all students need
to wear t-shirts under their Barkley jerseys.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
I’m smart enough not to say nigger
too loud so my parents send me away
to the gifted school downtown.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
“gifted” means mostly white
kids who can’t fight
or can’t afford private school.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
my white friend in Latin won’t talk to me
about anything other than No Limit Records
and East Bay books.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
Most of my dreams end with a light-skinned girl’s legs
in English class. One or two dreams
will never leave the Latina who gave me my only nickname.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
the school year really doesn’t matter
because no one notices me stringing up
my Terrell Davis cross trainers on the first day.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
my grandmother dies
and I feel weak when I try to hold up
my fainting mom in church.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
my biggest failures are my failure to dunk
and my failure to raise
my eyebrow like The Rock.

Because this is Montgomery in 1998,
I’m the last kid at home, waiting for the hum
of a car in the driveway while I count all the ghosts
I want to be when I grow up.

An Apology to Montgomery

For every time
I checked my locks
when I got off on exit 170.

For every time
I took the bass out my speakers at a red light.

For every time
I passed the public library and didn’t drop off a book
with a black face on the cover.

For every time
I couldn’t remember how to get back
to my grandma’s old house.

For every time
I thought I was too good
for my grandma’s rice with ketchup in it

For every time
I rolled my eyes at pastor Houston
for talking about hanging with MLK.

For every time
I didn’t yell “Bitch,
I’m from Woodley Park!” when a bouncer
said my jeans were too baggy.

For every time
I should’ve kicked a girl
out of my apartment when she said
I didn’t sound Southern.

For every time
I laughed at a joke about Alabama
State or Montgomery Mall.

For every time
I missed the Turkey Day Classic parade.

For every time
I listened to the gunshot
rumors at Cramton Bowl.

For every time
I pretend I’m more
than a coin flip
away from being another Alabama boy
on an airbrushed t-shirt.

Jason McCall is an Alabama native, and he currently teaches at the University of Alabama. He holds an MFA from the University of Miami, His collections include Two-Face God (WordTech Editions, forthcoming), Dear Hero, (winner of the 2012 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize), Silver (Main Street Rag), I Can Explain (Finishing Line Press), Mother, Less Child (co-winner of the 2013 Paper Nautilus Vella Chapbook Prize), and he and P.J. Williams are the editors of the forthcoming It Was Written: Poetry Inspired by Hip-Hop (Minor Arcana Press).