Uniform
Caroline M. Mar
after hearing Ta-Nehisi Coates speak

Long gone in rot, decay
of the warm Virginia ground, swelter
of summer. Riddled

with wormholes, I can see it
in my mind’s eye, hanging
in my grandfather’s closet, though

I know great-great-great-great-grandfather
was buried in it.
Memory inhabits

our heritage, the way
you spoke of imagined whiteness
binding together

slave-owners, slave-
owner aspirants, as great-
great-great-great grandfather

must have been, to be buried
in beloved
Confederate grey. I imagine

the cap, crossed rifles
resting above a placid, generic,
dead white man’s face.

How fast
decay happens
in humidity’s hug, that embrace

I love to walk into
when I leave my own cold
hometown. My body

feels built for the heat, like
my mother’s freckled body, our old
Virginia line. I don’t even remember

his first name. I imagine
the bodies that fell around him
and his drummer-boy son,

then his grandson, great-
grandson, fighters
in every major war

of this democracy
you spoke about.
I have not gone to war.

My mother’s daughter,
our bodies never acclimated
to the damp cold

of my fog-locked city,
the Pacific’s wind-drawn
blanket. I am a daughter

of a nation whose heritage,
you said again, is plunder.
I remember the brown body

of my father, the way
he angled toward me
after we sold the house,

when he told me
I should keep the money
for myself. Just in case.

How the fog
plunders the sky for space.
Because marriages, sometimes,

do not work out, because
my wife didn’t come
from money, and who’s to say

that what is mine
is truly hers. What vow,
what promises matter,

when you’re looking at that
kind of bounty, like the wet earth
blooming sunflowers, where once

there were graves. To hold
a piece of dirt, or a dollar,
or a human being, say:

this here, it belongs
to me. I imagine the bodies
of my Virginia relatives

at the last family reunion.
I was curious, but too fearful
to attend. What if

I was the only brown body.
What if I was not, what if
there was tension between the Black

and the white McDonoughs,
or what if the white ones tried
(they always try)

to enlist me.
What if we met under a tree,
a spot of shade

in the unbroken heat,
a resting place,
that tree where once—

I cannot imagine.
You said
being moral was easy, said

we have to consider
what is just.
I imagine the uniform

again, hanging cold
in a cedar-scented closet.
I imagine the smell

and the heat on my face,
distorted from flame, burning
that house to the ground—

My fingers still stroking
the textured wool, the fragile
fraying, the moth holes.

Caroline M. Mar is high school Special Educator who lives, writes, and teaches in her hometown of San Francisco. A member of Rabble Collective, Carrie is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and an alumna of VONA. Her writing has appeared in Nimrod, Four Way Review, New England Review, and elsewhere.


More by Caroline M. Mar:
Uniform