Bryan’s Grocery, August 1955, Money, Mississippi,
Emmett Till, fourteen, looked at a white woman in the store.
His mama said the press could show what was done
by ersatz Southern gentlemen like my grandfather’s brother
less than a century before to a man whose name
I don’t know because it’s not part of the story my kin told,
how the man teased Abraham McAlexander in town
when the boys were there, and Abe’s brother Richard
killed the man who was black, and the brothers changed
their surname to Alexander and fled south to defy the law.
The nineteenth century’s Civil War had ended by then.
In 1955 the Civil Rights Movement was about to begin
in earnest but was never permitted to end during my lifetime.
In the sixties, at three in the morning in New Orleans,
over the last meal of the day, our host said, You’re a liberal,
aren’t you? In those days, a beard signified rebellion,
or so he, like so many, thought. What I was inside
was a guilt-ridden son of poor whites from Arkansas
with its Tahlequah strain, like having an injun for a mammy
on St. Charles every day I rode the streetcar to Uptown.
My brother in spirit though not in blood photographed
Lowndes County, Alabama, Selma’s Edmund Pettis Bridge
the morning after the beatings that turned the marchers back
galvanizing them and bringing liberals to town to march
to Montgomery where the governor George Wallace
proclaimed, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow,
segregation forever!" and on her way home to Detroit
Viola Liuzzo was shot driving her car, martyred to the cause
whose Voting Rights Act the president Lyndon Johnson
signed later in the year, with his Southern brogue
welcoming a law augmenting the Emancipation Proclamation.
It was a long time coming, it’s going to be a long time arriving
now the mulatto president of these norteamericano valleys
and mountains and deltas and rivers is at risk in this land
where fascist law vindicates a white man shooting a teenager
whose skin color angers him, and there’s not outrage enough
for Congress to take action against the state of Florida.
The outrage is the president’s empathy with all of America.
Where there’s money to be made on taking over the country,
poor whites welcome Dives as all the black Lazarus awake.
(21 October [Ursula's saint's day] 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander