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Second-class ticket.

second-class ticket

 for Joseph Laroche, the only black
 man to die on the Titanic

when did it hit you, brother?
was it when you were forced to change
your first-class tickets to the other,
the ones that made you second-class,
or was it when they saw that Juliette, the mother
of your children, was white and pregnant with your son

was it your Haitian name, brother?
the French-educated accent that got you on board,
to take you home for a new claim to life,
to a better dawn that would afford
your daughters the hope of boundless dreams
that were not shackled to racial discord

when did it strike you, brother?
as you strolled the deck of elitist frowns,
did you notice that Jack Johnson and Shine were scarce,
in the company of Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, and
 Molly Brown?
were you haunted by surrounding savage stares,
the colonial regalia of tuxedos and evening gowns?

was it your silent pride, brother?
that carried the weight of your fears,
the calm of a man who faces doom,

who holds the screams of a famished ocean in ears
that longed for the sweet songs of sanity
amid the chaos of the pompous and austere

when did it shake you, brother?
that your choices had led to loss
the lifeboats full, the broken ice rushing
over your skin like a watery thanatos,
one last look at your family, a silent wave,
your final deed in the legends of the inconspicuous

Mel Donalson has published poetry, essays, and short stories, and is the editor of Cornerstones: An Anthology of African American Literature. A scriptwriter, his critical study Above the Line: Black Directors in Hollywood will be published by the University of Texas Press in 2003.
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Author:Donalson, Mel
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Poem
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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