My Olmec, a poem
By Selina Alko
In the beginning, you slept.
I held you baby boy, in all of your quiet.
The silence of sleep and peace resting on
your Olmec face.
A round mask, like the stone heads from
Ancient artisans from a long time ago.
Holding wisdom and forgotten stories from
Outsized hopes and overcast dreams from
beneath the curtain of your closed eyes, Your father’s complicated African
American history, mostly unknown.
And from my Canadian side, your Jewish
lineage–– Polish and Latvian with
tumultuous Turkish roots.
In my arms, you bore your multicultural
ancestry out loud.
Gradually your Olmec face- graceful and
majestic- began to fill out.
As you grew, carrying quiet confidence and
you demonstrated a gift–
The ability to form in your head pictures so
true to life-
And then transferred those visions to
I watched you navigate the world of two
Translating the music you love into portraits.
Rendering rap and hip hop artists in
Connecting you to your pops.
Helping you understand a part of yourself.
I wonder if, son,
As a light-skinned brown boy living in
bougie Brooklyn, you drew to
To reflect a growing awareness.
The uneasy truth about growing up mixed-
race in a racist land.
I, myself, came late to understanding
When I married your father, I was largely
Coming from Canada, I didn't know much
Or the Great Migration.
Or Jim Crow.
Or Civil Rights.
Then, I learned about Mildred and
An interracial couple living in Virginia in the
They were arrested for their illegal marriage.
Nine years later, they won the right to their
Only after writing a book about the
Lovings, I finally understand America’s
How even after slavery ended, laws kept
Blacks and whites separate.
I saw our family's story in the Loving’s
And, I finally understood.
Only 50 years ago, you, my son, would
have been born a crime.
Your father says that his whole life was
That his single mother overprotected him by
keeping him indoors.
Sheltering you is not an option for me, your
white, Jewish mother.
I do not want to raise you to be afraid.
But I do want you to be aware.
I want to help you grow.
I want to help you move through this world
You are fourteen. A quiet storm.
Are you aware that you may be
perceived as a threat?
You slam doors and shut me out,
sleeping half the day away.
When you draw, you astound.
You are winning awards for your art.
I know you are good.
You know you are good.
But does the world see you as good?
You are a teenager.
A wild child, ripe with rebellion.
Olmec eyes of coal.
Five feet five inches of brown-boy tall.
Do not give them an excuse.
Do not wear a hoodie.
Do not keep your hands inside your pockets.
And, please know.
Please take to heart this truth, my son.
You can not hide from prejudiced eyes.
But you can move through the world