Magical Brown Bags that Never Emptied

Magical Brown Bags that Never Emptied

Let me sing to you about magical, brown, road lunch bags that never seemed to empty.

Of James Brown silencing the riots in the streets
Of an attorney general who actually reconsidered his initial strident positions

Of AM radio
And Black radio stations nationwide 
Always found at the very top and bottom of the car radio dial

Of Nina Simone singing songs I wouldn’t understand until right now

Of a time when Kentucky fried chicken was one of the only restaurants that would serve everybody on the road
And they were only found in the South
(although the Colonel definitely stole the recipe) 

Of a time when there were only two McDonald locations in our area

And families went to Drive in movie theaters 
Sometimes hiding the little ones in the back under blankets.

We found ways to live and love through anything and everything

I wanted to write a love poem today

About when we — my sister and I — were little 
And we had to travel down South 
By car 
By train
Or, by The Greyhound Bus 
as Southern people use to say

We always made special “Trip Food”.

Grandma used to make us huge bag lunches. 
You don’t need a Green Book when you’ve got a bag lunch
She always packed them in huge brown paper grocery store bags
And this is where “saving the paper bags” comes from

Black people have always recycled

Before a big trip, Grandma would fry several chickens and put them into doubled brown paper bags
Along with loaves of gummy Wonder Bread in wax paper

Mom always liked the wings

My little sister would go crazy if she didn’t get the drumstick
But this was cured when it was discovered — quite by accident
That she was a huge fan of the sliced ham and cheese sandwiches
Neatly wrapped in wax paper bags
And suddenly, I could eat as many drumsticks as I wanted

People ask me why I don’t write other types of poems
Poems about ecstasy 
Or transcendence
Or peace

But that is all I write about

The ecstasy of naming daemons 
The transcendence of crystallizing my thoughts
And the peace that allows me to stare at the face of Gorgans again and again
Without turning into stone

I can write love poems, too

This is a love poem to Sonia Sanchez who asked me to find my fire and send it into the future

To Nina Simone singing God, God, God, with Nubian passion

To Gil Scott Heron who said we’ve got to do something to save the children
This is a love song to my and my sister’s yester-selves
I say that 
The inner child can never be healed 
But only hugged
And this is the best I can do

To big Southern women who urged us to “Stay together children“
And the laundry dancers in galvanized steel tubs 
Who always made sure that we were clean.

This is a love poem
As they all are.

But most importantly this is a poem dedicated to greasy brown paper bags 
with huge oily spots in them 
that always seemed full 
And everything that they symbolized

The comfortable freedom of bounty in an uncomfortable world

This is to the generations to come. 
You won’t have to eat lunches out of brown bags
But you can still learn from this love song

(Photo Credit: N. Jay Jaffee, “Strange Fruit” / The Smithsonian American Art Museum)