by Adrienne Kennedy

I met my white grandfather a few times.
of course he lived on the white side of town.
he sent his chauffeur who was black and his name was Austin
in a black car to

my grandmother’s house to get us.
my mother wanted my brother, herself, and me to walk
but he insisted.

we went to his house.
his white wife wanted us to go in the back
but he insisted we come into the front.

full of contradictions,
he sent my mother and her half-sister to college,
bought them beautiful things

but still maintained the distance. they called him
by his surname and he never shared a meal with them.

we sat in his parlor twice.
he was slightly fascinated by my brother and me.
he said something like you all have northern accents.
he was interested in our schooling in Cleveland.
he was interested in the fact that people
said I was smart.

at that time the thirties and before the WAR
he owned a lot of the town

and had three children by black women.
my mother’s mother was fifteen, worked in the peach orchards.

like the South itself, he was an unfathomable
mixture of complexities.
these are two generations of white men

who went all the way to Africa to get SLAVES,
quite mad.

I was lucky enough to spend a day and evening in his
and his family’s house. built about 1860
where he was born … his father was the town’s first bank owner.

the house, white, wooden in weeping willow trees
down a long archway.

by 1940, when I visited, the house had one usable
room, the rest all boarded up
and was lived in by black COUSINS
of his Negro family.

despite her Atlanta Univ education and marrying a Morehouse man
and making a nice life in Cleveland,
my mother found it impossible to say her mother’s name.
and impossible to call her father by anything but his
she used to say to me when I was a child,
Adrienne, when I went to town to get the
mail, they would always say
here comes that little yellow bastard.

Published on June 10, 2020

First published in Harvard Review Online August 22, 2016.