Running While Black, by Allison Joseph

The fact that you unleash your pack
of snarling angry dogs the moment
I trot by, tank top soaked through,
sweaty shoulders bare, the fact

that this neighborhood at the edge
of the milk factory and trailer park,
is where I shouldn’t be caught
occurs to me just as your German

Shepherd lunges—his owner too lazy,
unable or unwilling to leash
this animal’s muscled anger.
There are places a woman,

dressed from motion, shouldn’t go,
crossings that common sense
and history should keep her from.
Yet my stubborn brown body

wants to go where it wants
to go, foolishly thriving on its
own speed. I know that a flash
of bare legs is signal to some

that I am there for the taking,
to be spat at, mocked, forced
off the road into side ditches,

black puddles. Nobody owns
the road, some fiber in me
foolishly wants to believe.
I tell my friends I get up

before the rapists and killers
when they cluck about treadmills
and safe gyms. A woman should
be able to go wherever she wants

without being bruised, hissed at
shouted at: bounce them tits, girl,
speed it up! Why then, am I the one
shamefaced and sputtering in rage?

Why am I the one they’ll blame
when, days later, my body
surfaces in that roadside trench,
that last chance ditch?

***

Allison Joseph lives, writes, and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where she is part of the creative writing faculty at Southern Illinois University.  She serves as editor and poetry editor of Crab Orchard Review, moderator of the Creative Writers Opportunities List, and director of the Young Writers Workshop, a summer writers’ workshop for teen writers.

Her books and chapbooks include What Keeps Us Here (Ampersand Press), Soul Train (Carnegie Mellon University Press), In Every Seam (University of Pittsburgh), Wordly Pleasures (Word Tech), Imitation of Life (Carnegie Mellon UP), Voice: Poems(Mayapple Press), My Father’s Kites (Steel Toe Books), Trace Particles (Backbone Press), Little Epiphanies (Imaginary Friend Press), Mercurial (Mayapple Press), Multitudes (forthcoming, Word Tech Communications), The Purpose of Hands(forthcoming, Glass Lyre Press), and Mortal Rewards (forthcoming, Kelsay Books).

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Allison Joseph

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