Cover Photo: illustration of a row of Black women sitting at a deli counter, talking and eating, all wearing bright, bold colors in a variety of patterns
Illustration by Sirin Thada for Catapult

and though the odds say improbable

they ain’t superhuman. ain’t always able / to save the children the men the country or even your silk presses / but whatever they touch. somebody’s good god blesses.

Destiny Birdsong · and though the odds say improbable

and though the odds say improbable

into the deli tip-tipping across the coat
of grease on the floor. it’s still warm in October
so they remove their sunglasses. rub their oiled shoulders
remark: so cold in here. one watches purses
while others shimmy to the salad bar. some are nurses
here for conferences. some on lunch breaks
from government jobs downtown. some are flakes.
unemployed. divas. deans. retired. do hair.
edges slick. wand curls crisp in the Freoned air.
they pinch the fainted lettuce onto plates.
they scoop the pitted olives cherries dates
into bowls. the cotton blended florals plaids
prisms paisleys polkas flutter on calves
until they reach their seats. they kiss mustard.
avocado. banana pudding (really just custard
one sways to the soft serve machine and lingers
a little too long but returns with a smile:
a swirl cone done up soda-counter style.
every one of them been through something: sit-ins. bombings.
bussing. the crack epidemic. Reaganomics.
backdoor abortions. miscarriages. picket signs in front
of the free clinic. and now the white girl with the blunt
bob snatching plates too early. they tap her wrist.
give each other the look. say it’s alright miss
when the black ladies nodded their heads and hoops clip-ons drop-
pearls chandeliers gold nickel earrings twirled
above beautiful elbows. not a care in this old world.
republic been crumbled. Black Wall Street crash
bout a century ago. they leave together. their laughter is brash
and openly secretive (you bet not ask). perfume wafts.
they wave. say alright girl i ll be seeing you. one coughs
and i pray it’s just the cold air the pollen the pepper
little piece of meat stuck in her throat. the black ladies better
have a blessed day month year life. i mean it the opposite way
they meant it whenever they have to say
it to coworkers. husbands. customers. the demon board
(child i meant deacon). as i leave i touch the table
where they sat. they ain’t superhuman. ain’t always able
to save the children the men the country or even your silk presses
but whatever they touch. somebody’s good god blesses.

Destiny O. Birdsong is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist whose work has either appeared or is forthcoming in African American Review, The Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature, Guernica, and elsewhere. Her debut poetry collection, Negotiations, will be published by Tin House Books in October 2020.