I planted collard greens around my patio, and they’re scaring my neighbors.

They love the tomatoes, the romaine and Swiss chard. They ask for basil and oregano on a regular basis, which I appreciate, because how much basil can one woman eat anyway? I share my flower bulbs, my onion sets, my rosemary. They thank me with homemade sauce and veggie casseroles. It’s a lovely, if undiscussed, bartering system.

But the collards are different. The collards are living, growing reminder of what we never, ever mention. They are evidence of my Blackness. Proof that, behind my warm smile and pretty flowers, I’m liable to turn into Sapphire at any given moment.

“What kind of lettuce is that,” they asked at first. “Is that some type of kale?” “I’ve never seen anything like that!”

Collard greens, I explained. Traditionally Southern food. My grandmother used to cook them all day with ham hocks and salt pork and turnips. Fry up some catfish and hot water cornbread and I might just have a Mississippi meltdown right here and now. (Of course, these days I’m far more likely to saute them with garlic and olive oil, and dump them on a bed of brown rice. But I can cook them just like my granny did. She made sure she taught me.)

Ah … the light dawns. Soul food. Black People food. They smile, too brightly.

Their kids run off the grassy hill and into my house to use the bathroom or get a popsicle, because my house is closest. Mr. M comes over with his toolbox when my faucet leaks, and I feed their cats when they leave town. Every winter, the teenagers dig my car out of the snow and push me into the street.

We all get along famously.

But … I see them eyeing my collard greens. And I smile to myself, just a little.

Maybe I’ll plant some okra, too.

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