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Field Trip, Barataria Preserve

Sobbing on the boardwalk leading into the swamp, a little black girl, palms to her

face, too scared to move—
between two tupelos, a golden orb weaver centered in its web, head down,
its body the size of the girl’s hand.
Throb and thrum of frog, of bug. Taint of diesel in the swamp’s dank breath.
Classmates babble ahead, leaving her
with her teacher. It’s OK, it can’t touch you, he tells her, a fingertip on her arm. She
flinches: doesn’t he know
she saw it? Rigid, alert, fixed high in the air, big enough to take her. Bigger: her
terror’s filaments
span swamp and lowland prairie and city streets. It holds her here, not here, won’t
let go. It lets the sun set, lets shadows drag
the cold inland, alligators burrow into mudholes, blue heron and great
egret roost—she alone
cannot go home, filaments seeking hold in wind over water, seeking ships that
brought her ancestors here, shores
from which they were stolen, thieves who took them, thieves who sold them,
mobs bearing ropes, cops bearing guns.
For now, her terror roots her here. But not forever. Whisper of palmettos in the
breeze. Whisper of other stories.
Moonlit, the spider, waiting, not waiting, not not waiting, like history.

The girl stops sobbing. I can’t go home, she thinks, and takes her hands from her
face. No teacher,
no classmates. Above her, the web’s golden threads, like a rope ladder’s rungs, so
she climbs
until her fingers brush a hard slender leg, until silk begins wrapping her, wrapping
snug as swaddling. Her fear. Hers and not hers. She smiles inside it.

Brad Richard

Brad Richard
was recognized  as the 2015 Louisiana Culture Award for “Artist of the Year” in 2015. He is founder and Chair of Creative Writing Department at Lusher Charter School in New Orleans and Co-Director of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards/ Southeast Louisiana Writing Region. He has published three collections of poetry and was the winner of the 2010 Washington Prize. His work has been featured in numerous anthologies and journals. Richard has received many grants and awards, including the Century Swept Brutal/ Black Ocean Award in Excellence; a Louisiana Division of the Arts Artist Fellowship in Literature; the Poets & Writers, Inc., Writers Exchange Award in Poetry; and a Surdna Foundation Artist Teacher Fellowship.