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Editor’s Note: This poem is part of “On Reconstruction,” a project about America’s most radical experiment.

A rabbit tried to kill Louise
Once when I was a kid.
I’m saying Louise now
But I’d have said Miss
Louise then, as she appeared
On our screens once a week
Wearing blues I haven’t seen
Since, her long hair curled,
Combed out, and pushed up
Into a volume so thick, you felt
Both the power of an Afro and
The requirement of a relaxer
On a woman rounder than most
Of her penthouse neighbors,
Hair that wouldn’t move
No matter how much she
Shook when she yelled
At her husband or when
Trapped by a man
Dressed as a rabbit who
Wielded a snub-nose .38 Special
We thought scary before
We knew what an AR-15
Could do. Miss Louise
Never sang, but she had a voice
That left you wondering
How singing might sound
On her. She was that beautiful.
And dark. They had a grown son.
She wasn’t a young woman.
By the time I saw the Halloween
Rerun, the youngest men
In my hometown had organized
Themselves into colors, red and
Blue. They were patriots. Like
Patriots, they’d shoot. And
They’d shoot each other too.
They’d shoot you if you
Accidentally scuffed their shoes
At a club or a concert. They’d
Shoot driving by from their cars
Into houses and parks. They’d
Sell you something so good,
You’d sell our TV to get more
Of it. And I cannot say I didn’t
Love them. They killed my first
Girlfriend—a stray bullet meant
For her brother—and I loved
Them. They killed my cousin,
But some of them were my
Other cousins, and I still loved
Us in all my fear of our gold
Teeth and oversize Dickies.
They’d kill me today, yet remain
A problem I mean to solve.
I’m grown now. I know Louise
Was the star of the show,
The leading lady. No writer
Would kill her off on a sitcom.
Murder is meant for real life.
Anybody can get a gun, but
Nobody kills Louise Jefferson.
There is a place where
Black people don’t die,
A deluxe apartment in the sky.
All week, I worried about the next
Episode. Mornings, I’d dress
Myself and my little sister,
Making sure we wore nothing
That looked like the flag, and
When the appointed night fell,
The jokes were still funny,
The rabbit apprehended.
The white rabbit didn’t murder
The Black lady, no, not on TV.

This poem appears in the December 2023 print edition.

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