a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, Alabama
(dedicated to victims of documented lynchings, 1879–1950)
No more eyes gouged from their sockets.
Your manhood whole again.
No one will harness you with rope, drag you
through mobs of colorless faces.
Here on this hilltop
are your new manifestations – steel coffers
six feet tall, hanging above us, heavy as history.
801 pillars in variegated shades of brown,
one for each county where thousands of your bodies
were made to die.
for drinking from a white man’s well
for demanding fair wages for mending a fence
for writing a note to a white woman
for standing on the wrong side of a street
4400 names etched in steel:
Bird Cooper – Claiborne Parish, LA
Harrison and James Gillespie – Salisbury, NC
Anthony Crawford – Abbeville, SC
Fred Rochelle, 16 – burned alive in Polk County, FL
Caleb Gadley – Bowling Green, KY
Mary Turner with unborn child – Folsom Bridge, GA
Near these monuments wooden shelves hold
hundreds of glass jars, each packed with dirt
from unmarked sites where you were dumped.
Under trees. Down rutted roads. In dark woods.
And in that dirt, traces of your bone and grit,
lifted by your children’s children, by cousins
you’d never meet, by strangers who needed to say
I’m sorry. Their hands driven deep
in tainted earth — to lift out the residue
of your life and your life and your life
to speak your names out loud.
Others filled to the gills with guilt.
Maybe what we all could use is a house with a big front porch.
Maybe what we all could use is a neighborhood of houses
with big front porches. Rocking chairs. A shared space
out back with a pecan tree, a barbeque pit, a garden.
A crowded kitchen on a fall afternoon. Folks chopping
onions and pickles for potato salad, cabbage for coleslaw,
half with mayonnaise, half vinegar-based.
What we’ll need to settle on is a recipe for boiling rice.
And who out back will fry the fish, and who
will grill the steaks — well done, medium rare, raw in the middle.
The kids will bring a gunnysack-full of pecans
and one of the grown-ups, a nutcracker.
The bakers in the group will make desserts — lemon chess,
apple cobbler, brownies. Those who tend the garden
will clip dried hydrangeas for the table.
We’ll need a long table.
Barbara Conrad is author of three poetry collections: The Gravity of Color, Wild Plums, and her most recent, There Is a Field (2018). She is also editor of an anthology from her writing group with homeless neighbors. Her poems have appeared in Tar River Poetry, Atlanta Review, Nine Mile, NC Literary Review, Broad River and several anthologies, such as Kakalak and Southern Poetry Anthology. Her latest book reflects the voices of our interconnected lives, especially those that haunt us from a social justice perspective.