Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Issue 26, February 2013—Tribute to Jake Adam York)

Tribute to Jake Adam York

Sarah Browning
Drinking as a Political Act

The way my Virginia daddy made them,

mint juleps were a sacrament:

He folded ice cubes inside a clean

tea towel then pulverized them

with a wooden mallet that wasn’t used

for any other purpose,

picked mint he’d grown and tended

in a strip of rich black earth that

hugged the south side of our house

on the south side of Chicago.

My Virginia daddy’d been with

Dr. King on the bridge in Selma, so

I didn’t know ‘til I was a middle-aged

white woman that Black folks did not

share my view of the julep as a rare

and noble drink, but, rather, knew it

for what it was, plantation-born: ice

crushed by the strong arms of their

ancestors, sweetened with the blood

of others sold south to cut the cane.

But, wait – what if we reclaim

the mint julep, drinking as a political act?

I don’t mean we forget my Virginia forebears

who sat out on their wide porches and sipped

the minty coolness of the labors of people

they took to be their property. I don’t mean

forgiveness, even. I mean, let’s raise a glass

to those who unmade that hideous life,

who keep unmaking it each day with their

hard, truth-telling love. Come, here –

let me make you a sweet, ass-kicking julep.

Let me thank my daddy as I show you how it’s done.