a woman walked up and asked how

the young black poet the month before
could shake with such anger during

his reading. Is it really
that bad? It can’t be that bad,
can it?

I told her it was
and she said,

Maybe for you

in Kansas, but here in Charleston
a nice black man held the door open
for me and my friends
because people respect each other here
and those things you write about
don’t happen anymore.

I live here, too, I reminded her.
And by here I meant the world,

but she was already off and talking
about some professor that was

B-L-A-C-K black,
not black like you,
and when I was in college in the ’70s,
I couldn’t understand why on earth
he would come here to teach
in a state where people just don’t see
that kind of black.

The woman pouring wine at the reception
exchanged a look with me —
each of us with arched brows
asking the other,
You believe this shit?

Then another woman
tried to help, said,

It doesn’t matter what color anyone is
as long as you’re willing to listen
to one another’s experience —
but those young people who identify
as different genders are beyond me.

I must have been in a goddamn sitcom
when yet another well-meaning woman
realized they were all starting to look bad
and tried to shut the whole thing down:

Let’s talk about the art on the walls,
how good it is to host such a diverse
lineup of poets, how everything’s
always been this awful,

but it’s getting better. Isn’t it
getting better?