"Parsing the blood" - Sharon D. McCoy

"Parsing the blood" - Sharon D. McCoy

It runs through our veins
through our history
rivers channeled
never still
longing for immortality

we try to stop it
damn it

blood sacrifice
in the name of god, spain, and gold
the taĆ­no, third day rising
empire and encomienda
sangre de dios, god’s blood, god’s will be done
bad blood bad faith golden idol

mercantile free blood, dutch, english, portuguese
triangle trade, colonial companies, st. augustine’s
tenacity – but also the lost colonies
death’s maddening whining mosquito’s hum
blood-borne parasites or feverish betrayal
repaid in blood lust, blood lost

powhatan iroquois algonquin, more
saints, puritans, the blood of christ
the blood, oh christ, of slaves,
of conquest, of sacrifice
history written in blood and prayer

woman’s constitution, spilling monthly blood –
no matter, except as a money matter
if enslaved, by partus sequitur ventrem
the fruit of her womb, blood of her blood
never more than 3/5 constituted
parsed by the u.s. constitution

biology running here in veins fueled by
history and law, parsing rights
and wrongs – but bluebloods lacking oxygen anyway
surgeon general rush’s bloodletting fever
nationalist fever for letting blood spill
so long as it can be parsed not-ours

half-bloods, blood money, blood trophies
bloodbath, bloodlines, blood quantum
bloody kansas bloody hell reservations
citizenship of blood, passing, parsing
the red and shifting line between
white and not-white

state by state – blood quantum fiercely parsed
court legislature marriage bed
red blood that makes one white
or black or indian or foreign marking a “disability
of color” –  as though there were antibodies
for privilege

drawing lines drawing blood parsing privilege held tight
one-half: massachusetts ohio; parsing more
one-quarter: mississippi missouri michigan kentucky illinois 
one-eighth: louisiana georgia – bloody inadequate laws
south carolina alone parsing reputation reception society
admixture – testing blood’s social surface tension

later – more surface-level parsing –
claiming blood will tell, blood will out
legal lines of “any visible admixture”
overwritten by the almighty one-drop rule,
drawing black blood in social corpus antibodies
for privilege embodied but never in law

hearts pumping blood and bloody irony
uniquely american irony – dr daniel hale williams
that first successful open heart surgeon – his triumph –
sanitation protocols saving lives while his own heart
pumps his legally dirty blood white walls white hospital
white betrayal poetic justice and just plain hell – both

karl landsteiner – system of blood typing
parsing not by color or race
but a, b, ab, o
rH positive or not
but not black or white or foreign
antibodies and clumping coagulants of death and privilege

or garrett morgan’s genius –
so ironically American
for a black man to invent the gas mask
protection from the air-borne toxins
that poison the blood – yet
his own blood parsed as second-class citizen

blood cancers – wartime chemical weapons turned inward – krumbhaar 
goodman gilman farber – mustard-gas scorched marrow, anti-folates blocking
pinkel – raging rampaging waging all-out internal war parsing blood’s
ground-zero while radiation burned lifeblood of henrietta lacks – HeLa
first immortal cell line, billions bought and sold, bloodlines sold out cold
billions bought and sold, immortality’s untamed longing – HeLa

new triangle trade blood spilling world wars fighting
blood and spirit privilege and riot red summers running
rivers of blood and privilege running
running in new channels taking to the streets
civil disobedience blood high and colored
black and white and red

and yet – written in the blood, too
written in genes of disease susceptibility and resistance
race’s bloody social history parsed – found wanting
not superficial features skin or hair
but deep in bones, continental ancestry
antibody-memory-altered genes

protecting from then-more-imminent threats
malaria, sleeping sickness, typhoid, acute anemia
biology’s joke on the human pretense of
making race skin deep – parsing blood and missing the point
hemochromatosis sickle cells cystic fibrosis alzheimer’s
thalessaemia prostate cancer tay sachs burkitt’s lymphoma

one drop – the actual almighty drop – not superficial
but antibody memory bone deep in marrow, channeled through
veins, long-mutated genes, new mutations.  absence of evidence is not
evidence of absence – a positive result is positive, but a negative
cannot be trusted:  for what cancer lingers
in the blood left behind, untested?

(Photo by Michelle Castleberry)

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