Poems in Protest

posted in: Aging, Poetry | 0

Remembering those lost to racial injustice while hoping for a brighter tomorrow, with poems by Art Cohen, Robert Nelson and Ted Lockhart.
6 minutes


February is African American History Month. On this edition of Burning Bright, three pieces about the ongoing tragedy of Black men being unfairly accused and then punished outside the justice system for the crime of having been born Black. And — unusual for us at Passager — all three are rhyming poems. 

Art Cohen started out as a legal aid lawyer in inner city East Baltimore in 1967 and has been trying to improve and make his community fairer to all ever since. He said his poem “Urban Requiem” “came right out of the events of April 2015: the fatal injuring of young Freddie Gray at the hands of local police, and the upsurge of community reaction as a result of his death.” He said that period reminded him of the aftermath of the April 1968 death of Martin Luther King.  

For every Freddie Gray

A thousand others have gone  
that way  

Unheeded invisible with  
no say  

About what went down for them  
that day.  

It is like some huge mass  

Where bodies accumulate and  
parents rave  

Little changes with each  
new wave  

While accountability efforts  

When will it all  

So that we can be on  
the mend  

And loud and clear this  
message send  

Each life demands that  
we attend.  

Art Cohen’s poem “Urban Requiem” from Passager Issue 59

This next poem “The Sense to Die” is also from Passager Issue 59. Robert Nelson said it was inspired by the recent deaths of African Americans at the hands of police officers. He said his poems, short stories and novel all involve current social issues.  

America, your sons lie in the street, uncovered and alone, 
The squalid cages where they dwelled have boundaries not their own, 
They’ve been abandoned from the womb, no indignation were they spared, 
You’ve turned your back on dreams they had and left them crushed and lying there.  

America, your sons have gasped for breath, on sidewalks ‘cross the land,  
You’ve loaded burdens on their backs and shackles on their hands, 
They crossed the sea against their will, and realized their darkest fears,  
They’ve felt the lash, it’s never stopped, for more than half a thousand years,  

America, your sons lie on the ground, with bullets in their backs,  
They’re hunted down like rabid dogs in unprovoked attacks. 
When laid to rest, you’ll hear a sigh that echoes to the sky, 
The only peace they ever found was when they had the sense to die.  

“The Sense to Die,” Robert Nelson. 

And finally, this by retired United Methodist minister Ted Lockhart. “Black Man Walking.” 

Black man walking,  
Somebody stalking.  
Black man running,  
Somebody gunning.  

How fast should I walk  
You who do that talk?  
Should I walk at double-time speed  
Or imitate a slow-go steed?  

What’s the right pace for me to run,  
You who hold the gun?  
Should I run at the jogger’s pace  
Or do you want my sprinter’s race?  

Black man walking,  
Somebody stalking.  
Black man running,  
Somebody gunning.  

Black man walking in my neighborhood. 
Everyone knows he’s up to no good. 
Call security, the police, and the watchman for our ‘hood,  
Cuz a black man is walking in our neighborhood.  

Black man running down the street, 
Everyone knows he is fleeing the heat. 
Call Security, tell the police a thief is out here running.  
Better yet, let us go get him with our own gunning.  

Black man walking in the land of the free,  
Somebody stalking in the name of liberty.  
Black man running in America the Beautiful,  
Somebody gunning in a seeming act dutiful.  

On the other side a voice rang out, 
“Whom shall I send to bring him about?”  
“Send Martin,” some said, “He’ll fill the bill.”  
“Not me,” King said, “send Emmett Till.”  

So one murdered black boy-child,  
On a visit in a Mississippi city,  
Fetched another boy-child, 
On a visit in a Florida city.  

Trayvon Martin 
Shot stone dead for walking like it was his, 
And yours and even ours, singing 
My Country, ’tis of thee, Sweet land of . . . 
O how long have we been looking for thee, America?  
O how long?  

Ted Lockhart’s poem “Black Man Walking” from the book The Poets of Ingleside at Rock Creek. 

To buy The Poets of Ingleside at Rock Creek or to subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com. You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts and various other podcast apps. 

For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.