La Bellezza Eterna,
South Carolina Low Country, 1932

Shayla Hawkins

for Grandpa Minnick and Aunt Mona

Even there, among the pecan trees and red clay roads,
people knew your name.
Even then, when the Depression
hung over farms and fields like a wet and heave cloth,
when it was cheaper to destroy crops than sell them,
people sought the beauty your hands created.

One of those, a rich landowner
who cheated the black workers,
who loved to brag, spoke often
of how he took his wife to Tuscany,
the land of Leonardo da Vinci,
the man who painted la bellezza eternal.

When my grandmother’s body burst with the life
of their first daughter,
my grandfather remembered his boss’s words
and, carrying his new child
to the yard outside his small house,
he lifted her to the sun
and spoke the only foreign words
he would ever know: la bellezza eternal.

Shayla Hawkins was born in Detroit in 1976. Her poems have been published in California Quarterly, Windsor Review, Yemassee, Graffiti Rag, Quantum Leap, Paris/Atlantic, and Calabash. A graduate of the Cave Canem Workshop/Retreat for African American Poets, she won the first place prize in the 2001 Detroit Writer’s Guild Paul Laurence Dunbar Poetry Contest. She is an ArtServe Michigan Creative Artist Grant recipient and was a feature reader in Poets Among Us at the 2002 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.