by Reagan Jackson (painting by Mickey Schilling)
There was a problem.
Though no one saw him
or the dam itself,
there was the indisputable evidence
of unusually high water levels at the project site.
15 city employees with billable hours
to 5 separate government agencies
formed a coalition to discuss in depth
the problem of the Beaver.
Though everyone saw her,
no one did.
It was the catch 22 never discussed.
She was simply the black girl.
When a classmate cut a braid from her hair
and she slapped him,
suddenly there was a problem.
They gave this problem a name: behavioral issues.
A caucus of three,
a teacher, a guidance counselor, and a principal
met briefly and agreed.
The evidence was indisputable, she was a slapper.
A file was created.
Red ink about black girls
who thought they had a right
to their own bodies.
and the water levels were still too high
to complete the project.
Workers paid prevailing wages
-and time and half on Saturdays-
had cleared the debris and cleaned the gutters.
It was agreed that indeed the beaver
had engineered the obstruction.
They hoped this would be the solution
to move forward,
but the beaver was wiley.
There was no more slapping that year,
though the black girl was carefully monitored for her violent tendencies.
Instead it was her tendency towards silence
that was most remarked upon in progress reports home.
It was the wrong kind of silence.
Her eyes still spoke volumes,
burned like black supernovas
with too many universes,
too much evidence that starlight
could come in more colors than white.
When her teacher asked her to share
during black history month
she simply stared,
cast her gaze in an arc
across the class of hungry eyed white children
and settled her eyes on the open window.
She didn’t speak her wish aloud,
fearing the rules of birthday cake candles applied,
yet something in her silence betrayed her.
There was a new problem now.
It was given a name: learning disability.
Now she sat in remedial classes
with the students who didn’t yet speak English.
Her new teacher was a freshly hired part time aid
with a pay grade substantially less than the prevailing wage
but who had dug wells in Africa over the summer.
“This girl is not disabled”, she declared.
And so a problem became a project.
Under the cover of night and a long weekend
the beaver returned
and finding his work undone
set about with diligence
to rebuild a dam sturdier than the previous incarnation.
With no understanding of what he hoped to keep in
or what he hoped to keep out,
a team of city engineers marveled at the structure.
30 city employees with billable hours
to 10 separate government agencies
convened a series of meetings
to discuss the now $80,000
worth of delays to the project
all the while acknowledging the intelligent nature
of the troublesome creature.
Beavers are born engineers.
Beavers are born to build.
It seemed a shame to thwart a life path,
but the project must be completed.
A team of ecologists and an animal therapist
were put on retainer.
Sufficiently saved by her white liberal teacher,
the black girl was allowed to return to regular classes.
She returned also to speaking,
Not much, but enough to keep her participation grade at a steady C.
When the other children moved to touch her hair now,
she let them.
“Plays well with others,”
was written on her progress report.
There was no mention of the stars
in her eyes that no longer burned,
the whirling universes imploding upon themselves
the light that had begun to die.
They saw her, but they didn’t.
The catch 22 was only problematic
to little black girls
who thought they had the
right to the worlds held within them.
It was agreed by all that
the beaver could not be displaced.
After all this was his home.
An entire staff of city employees
with billable hours to 29 separate government agency
did for one beaver
what an entire educational system
did not do for one black girl.
But then again,
The beaver was a protected species.