On Salvage Avenue the old-growth trees on either side
of the street form an arch as in a sacred place, pleasant shade
in springtime walking back to school after lunch or in autumn
before the leaves fall and the birch trees shed their bark.
A Klan rally flyer was stapled to a tree on the corner.
Everybody knew my town was a model of peaceful integration,
but maybe they knew too, some changes are thin as birch bark
The Klan flyer only I remember (never heard anyone mention it),
and I imagined somewhere hooded neighbors burning crosses in the night.
In New Jersey, in the fall of 1979, I was a high-school senior
thinking of college applications, jobs to help pay tuition, exams
and freedom from the tyranny of home rule, but the desecration
of the flyer stapled to the tree on Salvage where branches on either
side form an arch as in a sacred place, seared a memory.
The flyer on Salvage stapled to some part of me won’t let go:
the malice behind a Klan flyer stapled to a tree where I was raised,
the brutality in the hearts of those who put it there, like an earthquake,
woke me from my dream and shifted the ground upon which I stood.