The Lynching of Emmett Till

 

There is a dark leaf growing on a Willow. 

Mysteriously close to the hull 

catkin big as the South – 

very straight, with personality, 

lacey stingray tails 

gibbously pitted circles. 

 

We step fervently to smell the fruit, 

carry its branches to Tomb Sweep 

the river bed. The moon hums a cathedral 

purple glow as Black vultures 

descend upon the puddle of sticks and 

mud beneath us. 

 

Henrietta’s legs go motionless 

her arms unfold eagle wide as 

glimmers of daylight fade, shine, fade, 

shine, speckles in the dead dark forest. 

 

A single American flag 

flogs well in kerosene and 

ammo scented winds 

push in a choral refrain from the Willow, 

O babies gather 'round old Uncle Rastus. 

No white trash can fool me… 

there’s a nigger in the moon. 

 

We stand 

in ruins 

as the torch lit Willow leaf 

cries down in the Bottom. 

 

Bats, axe handles, crowbars, pale fists 

pound the maddened sky 

challenge God, scream their pants off 

holler for salvation, hoot for justice 

another nigger gone 

one safer Carolina. 

 

Our feet, pasted gingerly to the ground beneath 

lift as the final one abandons the picnic. 

We walk down 

walk down the impatient hill 

to harvest the Willow. 

 

Two empty cans of gasoline make company 

with the body parts unfitting for souvenirs. 

The river sings the blues 

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck, 

for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, 

for the sun to rot, for the trees to drop… 

 

Each strand of the lynch rope recounted 

a memory of this man’s last moments: 

 

were his fingers and toes chopped like salad 

carrots, 

fed to the hounds that drug him from the 

security of 

a splintered four post bed at 7:32 pm? 

 

Were his teeth withdrawn with auto pliers or 

bashed in by sledgehammer? 

 

Did he fight, or recall the 1922 anti-lynching bill 

or the filibuster that exterminated it? 

 

Was his skin as Black as the licorice jellybeans 

Henrietta loved to force on us after 

we’d picked the reds and yellows away? 

 

Did he know Civil Rights wouldn’t rest by 

hammock? 

That Emmett Till’s mangled body would 

Cut us down 

Cut us down 

Cut us down 

 

Did he know that we would cut us down? 

Cut us down 

Cut us down 

Cut us down 

 

And the wail released from Henrietta’s deep 

jaw 

ends all prayers for freedom. 

 

Henrietta prays a twenty slave prayer, 

blesses the head and shoulders 

left buried in the Willow, 

and continues home. 

© 2019 by J.B. Golden Group, LLC.

James B. Golden

Salinas Poet Laureate