Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize Winner: Politics

Ironing taught me:
we are covered in white—

we are covered in white the white
of Dad’s handkerchiefs, boxers.

Dad’s handkerchiefs, boxers,
our pillowcases and bed-sheets,

ironing is what taught me.

*

Our pillowcases and bed-sheets
(when did I know of the Klan?)

What could I know of the Klan—
were lynchings considered the norm?

Were lynchings the norm
in `51, in the year of my birth;

in 1951, mid-20th century,
Harry T. Moore was killed

by pillowcases and bed-sheets.

*

Poor Harry T. Moore was killed
(Moore a teacher, just like my Dad).

Moore taught school just like my Dad
who thought learning was the thing—

insisted learning was the thing
to make us more equal and free—

still, Harry T. Moore was killed.

*

Would we ever be equal and free?
Moore’s murder is still unsolved.

Unsolved, his Christmas murder.
Ditto Hampton and Van Patter.

Hampton and Van Patter killed—
their risk?—to be a Panther,

to live equal, to live free.

*

But every panther takes a risk:
see: Watt’s Riots, Daddy warned;

Daddy warned: terrible these riots
where we burn our houses down.

When we burn our houses down,
ash is all that’s left in our hearts.

Every panther takes her risks &

*

when we burnish black our hearts,
leaving the artists to tell the stories,

the artists must retell the stories like
John Outerbridge or Betye Saar—

John Outerbridge or Betye Saar—
check out his No Time for Jivin’

 burning blackness in our hearts.

*

See his No Time for Jivin; see
her Gris-Gris Box & Bittersweet,

 her Gris-Gris Box & Bittersweet,
my father’s warning and my risk

despite that warning.  I take the risk:
each burning blackness in my heart.

This ain’t No Time for Jivin’ –

 

 

 

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