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I am an invisible man.
No I am not a spook
Like those who haunted
Edgar Allen Poe;
Nor am I one of your
Hollywood movie ectoplasms.
I am a man of substance
Of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids —
And I might even be said
To possess a mind.
I am invisible, understand, simply because
People refuse to see me.
-Ralph Ellison

I am trying to forget
I am his daughter
When he tells the story.

His eyes do not meet mine
When I sit to listen
As he travels back 48 years
To 1955
To West Helena, Arkansas
To Whites Only
To Coloreds Not Allowed
To pain.

His eyes do not meet mine
As he finds his voice.
I press record on the handheld
And I am trying to forget
I am his daughter.
To be inactive participant
To be impartial listener
To be historian recording
His past.

He was 6-years-old.
And I imagine my father’s eyes
48 years younger
48 years brighter
And I imagine my father’s smile
48 years younger
48 years brighter
And I can clearly see
Myself.

He took his 4-year-old brother
To get a haircut in town.
And I wonder how
It came to pass
That a 6-year-old boy
Was entrusted to take
His 4-year-old sibling
Into hostility and war
Alone.

He inhales breath deeply
At the memory of this trip
And continues the story
While I try to forget
I am his daughter.
To stop my heart from
Feeling the hurt
That has settled visibly upon
His face.

His 4-year-old brother
Needed a bathroom
So he took him to use
The closest one he could find
And upon exiting the bathroom
“A white man,” he says
Approached his baby brother
Told him to read the sign:
Whites Only.

And as I wonder how
A 4-year-old boy
In West Helena, Arkansas
In 1955
Was expected to read
The Whites Only Sign
My father tells his story
And I am unable
To forget.
They tried to escape harm
But it was too late.
As they walked away
The white man kicked him.
The 4-year-old.

Hard enough to send
His little body stuttering
Along the sidewalk and to
His knees.
My father’s head bowed
Eyes do not meet mine
The memory sits as weight
On 54-year-old shoulders
He could not prevent
The tragic burden
He was forced to bear witness:
“He kicked him in the behind.
A 4-year-old.”

And I can not forget.
As pain hangs in the space
Between my father’s eyes
And mine filled with tears.
I press stop on the handheld
As reality sits as weight
On 27-year-old shoulders.
But I can not erase
The tragic burden my father
Was forced to bear.
A 6-year-old.

It is not a photograph
In a history book.
It is memory encapsulated
In his story.
It is not an image formed
On a television screen.
It is the truth and reality
That has formed his vision
Of life.

And I am still my father’s daughter.

Written by

Storyteller. Producer. Writer. Editor. NYU faculty. Traveling selfie taker. Auntie. •

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