FOR OSCAR GRANT III

 
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For two voices. Texts from Walt Whitman and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
 
Out of the cradle endlessly rocking
Five score years ago,
Out of the mocking bird’s throat, the musical shuttle,
A great American signed the Emancipation Proclamation
Out of the ninth-month midnight,
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free
Over the sterile sands, and the fields beyond, where the child, leaving his bed, wander’d alone, bare-headed, barefoot,
And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition
Down from the shower’d halo,
America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds”
Up from the mystic play of shadows, twining and twisting as if they were alive,
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt
Out from the patches of briers and blackberries,
We have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now
From the memories of the bird that chanted to me,
Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy
From your memories, sad brother—from the fitful risings and fallings I heard,
Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force
From under that yellow half-moon, late-risen, and swollen as if with tears,
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.
From those beginning notes of sickness and love, there in the transparent mist,
We cannot walk alone…we cannot turn back
From the thousand responses of my heart, never to cease,
We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality
From the myriad thence-arous’d words,
No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream”
From the word stronger and more delicious than any,
And some of you have come from areas where your quest—quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
From such, as now they start, the scene revisiting,
And so, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow,
As a flock, twittering, rising, or overhead passing,
I still have a dream
Borne hither—ere all eludes me, hurriedly,
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”
A man—yet by these tears a little boy again,
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood
Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves,
I have a dream today
I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter,
I have a dream today
Taking all hints to use them—but swiftly leaping beyond them,
A reminiscence sing.
 
 
 
 
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Jack Foley
 
 
Jack Foley.
NOTE: Oscar Grant III was a young African-American man killed by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) policeman, Johannes Mehserle in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, 2009. The event was captured by many witnesses on digital and cell phone cameras. In this poem I imagine a kind of collision between the voices of Walt Whitman and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who speak alternately. The Whitman text is from “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking”—the cradle of democracy. The King text is from his “I have a dream” speech, delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 march on Washington. As I wrote the poem, I was aware that the surname of our national poet, Walt Whitman, could be taken to mean “White Man.”
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One Response to FOR OSCAR GRANT III

  1. Editor says:

    So clever and skilfull Jack, love what you do with alternating voices. This one particularly pertinent this week. Remembering the beauty of American poets and great thinkers, fusing two great voices to make an even more epic one.

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