american dream

Jacqueline Woodson

Even when my girls were little, we’d go down there,
my grandmother tells us. And people’d be marching.
The marching didn’t just start yesterday.
Police with those dogs, scared everybody
near to death. Just once
I let my girls march.

My grandmother leans back in her brown chair,
her feet still in the Epsom salts water,
her fingers tapping out
some silent tune. She closes her eyes.
I let them and I prayed.

What’s the thing, I ask her, that would make people
want to live together?

People have to want it, that’s all.

We get quiet—maybe all of us are thinking about
the ones who want it. And the ones who don’t.

We all have the same dream, my grandmother says.
To live equal in a country that’s supposed to be
the land of the free.
She lets out a long breath,
deep remembering.

When your mother was little
she wanted a dog. But I said no.

Quick as you can blink, I told her,
a dog will turn on you.

So my mother brought kittens home,
soft and purring inside of empty boxes
mewing and mewing until my grandmother
fell in love. And let her keep them.

My grandmother tells us all this
as we sit at her feet, each story like a photograph
we can look right into, see our mother there
marchers and dogs and kittens all blending
and us now
there in each moment
beside her.

Last updated November 25, 2022