Call and Response
by Patricia L. Hamilton

Rescue, at long last: a new clerk to open
a second register. All of us shuffled forward,
wallets open, laden with Easter lilies
and bags of peat-black potting soil,
weary from the workday’s weight
of irascible clients and cranky children.

"Those people should keep to their place."
An angry mutter everyone could hear
scapegoating a nurse in hospital scrubs,
her skin the rich color of cocoa,
her crime the clerk’s beckoning her
to the front of the new line.

We all stood paralyzed by the venom
in the passed-over woman’s dart,
minds numb, tongues mute.
Irate, she turned her abuse on the clerk--
our savior a moment before--
spewing insults like tobacco spit.

When is silence complicity?
The question echoes through my conscience
like a shout in an empty tomb. Too late
I search for words to redeem that moment,
to restore that nurse's plundered dignity,
but every phrase I conjure seems too paltry.

If only some brash, extravagant brother
had hallelujahed forth the lavish truth
that God treasures all God’s children equally,
calling to the hater, "Jesus loves you!"
I would've recognized the right response:
"Yeah, lady. Even you."

Illya's Honey Literary Journal

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