This poem appears in Counterbound, Issue 3 (August, 2020).

To read all essays and poetry, purchase the print edition.

Alma Rosa Alvarez

Reading


The teaching of slaves
to read and write
has a tendency
to excite
dis-satisfaction
in their minds
and produce
Insurrection
to the manifest
Injury
of the citizens
of North Carolina

Therefore,
any free person
attempting to teach
any slave
to read or write
shall be liable
to indictment
and upon conviction
shall be fined
no less
than one hundred dollars
unless
that person
is a free person of color
who can then
be
fined, imprisoned, or whipped
no less than twenty lashes
unless
that person
is a slave
who will then receive
thirty nine lashes
on his or her bare back*


185
years later,
reading
can still carry
a penalty,
especially
if your name
is Keith Lamont Scott
whose love
of language
and poetry
is visible
even
in the name
of his daughter
Lyric.

He can be
in his car,
reading,
while he waits for his
school-aged son
to arrive
at the bus stop
when the cops
come by
looking
for some other guy
and shoot him down.

* Quoted from Source: "Act Passed by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina at the Session of 1830—1831" (Raleigh: 1831). Keith Lamont Scott


Alma Rosa Alvarez is a professor of English at Southern Oregon University where she primarily teaches U.S. Ethnic Literature. Her favorite poets are Lucille Clifton and Gwendolyn Brooks, but she also has a special place in her heart for Pablo Neruda's odes.


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