I hear in jail they beat you
with soap in a sock so the bruises
don’t show. I ride South
on the Greyhound
to Bloody Sunday, Bull Connor,
dog’s yellow teeth. The charter buses,
fiancé Mel’s carpool already left
New York. Now I sit prim
in my navy-blue sheath
as though it will protect me.
Lurch through the night, over
the Mason-Dixon line. Five AM,
rest stop, Macon, Georgia.
Locals leer as I pick at
watery grits, white and slick.
On to Selma, up the rise
of the Pettus Bridge. Tanks
skulk below, slits for windows,
faceless. Soldiers, bayonets. Is this
America? Step off the bus.
Hushed houses, trees lush, lawns trim. Where’s
Little Brown Chapel? I plead under my breath
to a lone black gardener who nods
the direction, stiff as a bird.
Sidewalk slides to clay. Ahead
sign-up tables, food lines. I swirl
into the welcome rumple, a black
and white flock. Join the March, 6 abreast
53 miles, 5 days to Montgomery.
Aint Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Round.
I sing from my feet, from all our feet.
Talk and sing, arm in arm.
We believe, even though
the National Guard who pockmark
the fields point their guns at us. We
believe even though we sweep for
landmines before camping in the open,
tarps over muddy ground. Glimpse Dr. King,
circles under his eyes. Nursing blisters,
we talk and sing into the night.
Day Two, passing a shack, I hear
the man who lived there was killed
in front of his kids, registering
voters here in Lowndes County.
Matrons limp on, Sunday dresses,
curled-over pumps. School boys wear
starched shirts; only we whites
can afford to be casual.
By the time we press into Montgomery,
half the speeches are over. Every black person
out on their porches cheers us on;
we tromp through their unpaved
mud to Courthouse Square. Martin’s
voice dim on loudspeakers.
Thousands have flown, driven, walked in.
TV cameras, shoulder to shoulder, we sway
We Shall Overcome—but are warned run,
run for the black part of town the minute
the rally’s done. No cops will protect;
the Guard disbanded. Cars of thugs rev
against dispersing crowds, gun barrels braced
on rolled-down windows. That night word spreads,
the Klan killed Viola Liuzzo driving alone
over our chant-filled road.
6 AM, I’m alone on the Greyhound, my silent hum:
Keep Your Eyes On The Prize. They still pull folks
like me off buses into the swamps hanging
with Spanish moss.
The Night After I Stumbled Upon My Blood Owning Slaves
a gun fixed to my hand
black barrel pointing out
metal hot cries bottled in its throat
In the dream
my palm open like a platter pistol presses its steely weight
my wrist bends back my fingers will not close
In the dream I squall
how did this gun get here i don’t believe in guns
father responds we’ve always
had it under the car seat
Still-dreaming mind scrambles
i’ve driven this car for years my heels so close to the gap never reached
under never groped
the dark felt the handle
In the dream I yell at my family
take this gun i don’t want it take it
i shake my wrists, my hands