“Presence” by Matt Dennison

The summer after my first year of college
the KKK had a presence on Main Street
in my hometown for a few hours. 
Don’t know what they wanted—
just walking up and down
in their honest-to-God
white robes and hoods,
handing out pamphlets
in the old weird America.
We had, I think, three
black families in our town,
so I didn’t see their point,
except maybe as a safe place
to practice before Indianapolis,
though it made me remember
playing with my black friend
in the third grade at recess
and this other kid coming over
and calling him “nigger
with the power of knowing
what it meant when
I didn’t and I don’t think
my friend did, and watching
his face go inward, open,
—and thinking he looked,
at that moment, as if he were
staring into heaven.


After a rather extended and varied second childhood in New Orleans, Matt Dennison’s work has appeared in Rattle, Bayou Magazine, Redivider, Natural Bridge, The Spoon River Poetry Review and Cider Press Review, among others. He has also made short films with Michael DickesSwoonMarie Craven and Jutta Pryor.

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