For Martin Luther King, faith in action
It was one of those premature spring evenings
when you go on the porch without a sweater,
and he stood there stunned
while the 7 o'clock world signed off in a silver sheen.
You couldn't blame the kid
because he really didn't know what to make of the whole thing;
at 18 he didn't know about dialectic clashes
or the etiology of criminal deviation,
and the starry breeze wasn't helping much, either.
Later that night, on a folding chair in the gym,
he could not keep his mind on the performance
even though you'd have admitted
it wasn't a bad production for a junior high school
enthusiastic students with some talent
and a good choice of a play),
but his mind drifted back
to the newscast in all its florescent precision:
you've seen it repeatedly since,
that infamous balcony at the Lorraine Motel,
those accusing fingers, arms, eyes
that point to the origin of the crime,
the body unseen at their feet,
the flow of blood that pours into the gutter
to mix with last fall's rotted leaves,
and the sanitary workers who'd have to clean up the mess.
Not that he was militant or even aware,
cramming for exams, reading sci-fi,
attending church 3 times a week.
But he could still whisper amid the choruses and laughter:
You may snicker now at his naivety
but that was just how he felt in the hollow chamber
as the curtain fell and the paternal applause rose,
as the midget cast strolled sheepishly out to soak up the praise.
He sat there trembling in the dark
expecting the director to walk onto the stage
and graciously receive her bouquet and then
to raise her hand above her head,
to call for a restless silence,
to call for a brief moment of mourning
(he'd have said prayer).
A mere formality, no doubt,
but capable of bringing the holy light down on the good folks' head
to see that not just another black man had died,
that a voice had been silenced.
But that hand was never raised
— could you have raised it? —
and the ovation rolled on
while over the city line, in Gary — and in Memphis, Watts and Detroit too —
the whole frigging world was on fire
Later, you'd see their brothers and sisters
in the plazas of Mexico,
behind the barricades in Paris,
in the fields of Peru,
And there he sat in the shadows,
holding back the tears for that dark form on the balcony
and for himself.