In my twenties, I lived and worked in East Austin. To the south of my house was the Mexican American part of East Austin; to the north was the African American part. Recently, I began to look at the 1860 census for Austin, where enslaved people had no names. They were identified only by their age and their gender. I followed the family into the 1870s and found the little brother's name. In this poem, a young girl names her brother.
Schedule 2- Slave Inhabitants in the City of Austin in the County of Travis State of Texas, enumerated by me, on the 1st day of August, 1860, S. J. Wood Ass’t Marshal
Slave owner: J.H. Hutchins
Number of slaves Age Sex Color
1 5 M B
My brother’s name is Brown
Like the soft color of his skin.
I named him that
Forty days after his birth
Waiting for the stars to whisper it to me.
For forty days, I stood listening in the cold
Winter darkness, waiting.
Brown, his name is Brown, they shined.
Honey brown like the oak leaves
That covered the Texas ground in fall.
Like the tiny hats that balanced on
Acorns as they hung on the tall trees.
Brown like the soil I dig up
With my hands to feel the warmth
Of the sun.
I whisper to him
No matter what they tell you.
You have a name.
Your name is Brown.