a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Section 2: Source - unnaturally colored landscape

Barbara Conrad


Naming

at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, Alabama
(dedicated to victims of documented lynchings, 1879–1950)

 

No more bones to break now – your fingers, your ribs.

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.

 

ξ

 

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

 

ξ

 

4400 names etched in steel:

 

Bird Cooper – Claiborne Parish, LA

(had been acquitted of a murder charge)

 

Harrison and James Gillespie – Salisbury, NC

(was suspected of killing a white woman)

 

Anthony Crawford – Abbeville, SC

(once rejected a merchant’s bid for cottonseed)

 

Fred Rochelle, 16 – burned alive in Polk County, FL

(randomly accused of rape)

 

Caleb Gadley – Bowling Green, KY

(went walking behind the wife of his white employer)

 

Mary Turner with unborn child – Folsom Bridge, GA

(complained about her husband’s lynching)

 

ξ

 

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.


And Somebody Will Say a Blessing

Some of us are angry and disillusioned.

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.


Other works by Barbara Conrad

  • Reimagine Everything Differently May 2016
    • Section 5
      • What if the Mad Farmer Could Sit in at a New Year’s Day Potluck During a Global Recession
    • Section 2
      • Rack of Lamb

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