Once, tea was served in a Swedish tearoom; stars and holly dressed the streets on Christmas nights. Our lives were rose damask sofas, sandbox turtles, small black-and-white TVs. Mother took me to the pool at Potowatame to swim; we picnicked on the banks of the Fox River, laid lemon balm on Geneva's graves.
Winter was wide as we could see and fathoms deep. When snow flew away whispering, lilacs sprung from the trees, tiny nodding lilies-of-the-valley stirred in their beds, and irises and rhubarb burst like hope from the ground, infinitesimal flags unfurled.
My country, my heart: bold brave flags we saluted each morning; parades that made my mother cry. Still, on slow drives through Chicago, we passed dirt-scrubbed brick buildings dark people sitting on their stoops, broken sidewalks, children staring at me, not holding balls or anything at all.
My country right or wrong, some say. Still, what remains is the silence that followed my father's names for them—pickaninnies, he said— me looking out from the back seat as we passed, my breath obfuscating the glass. The glass between us, my hands, my hands, my voice wanting to call out.
Caroline Cottom, PhD, is the former director of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and the U.S. Coalition that brought an end to nuclear test explosions in Nevada. Her memoir, Love Changes Things: Even in the World of Politics, chronicles this experience. Caroline's poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Crack the Spine, Motif, Morning Glory, The Broad River Review, and Glassworks, among others. She won first place in the Transitions Abroad personal essay contest. Caroline teaches meditation and leads spiritual retreats with her husband Thom Cronkhite in Oaxaca, Mexico, where they hang out with hummingbirds, coatimundis, and snowy egrets.