“Justices William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan Jr, Byron R. White and
Thurgood Marshall dissented. Marshall, a Negro, said that when Jackson
officials ‘denied a single Negro child the opportunity to go swimming
simply because he is a Negro, rights guaranteed to that child by the 14th
Amendment were lost.’ ”
—The Clarion Ledger, Jackson, Mississippi (June 15, 1971)


[The Lake]

Because Jackson was a police state with surprisingly few police,

Poseidon of the Confederacy did not surge up

from the tentacled deep of Livingston Park Lake

and look askance at an integrated citizenry

splashing around with blow up floats in the familiar presence

of each other’s children. Nope. The city elders

closed the lake tighter than a padlocked paddle boat,

that clear serene ten acre lake with its postcard island

and platform high dive where no one

back-flipped or belly-flopped post Jim Crow.


[The Lawsuit]

Comes down from the choppy shores of the United States Supreme Court like a stone cold tablet cut from the mountain Jackson doesn’t have: in the matter of Palmer v. Thompson, 403 U.S. 217, the city may have closed swimming holes to avoid integration, but said places of aquatic respite are in violation of no federal order as they no longer exist. A closed swimming area treats no one preferentially. Black or white: THOU SHALT NOT!


[The White Fear]

The hippy white trash Negro and other communist swimmers of Jackson are sweating

on the high bluffs foaming

beneath the diving boards hysterical to get wet a clear threat to civil order bound

to culminate


in cultural disintegration and the inevitable blendation of untold fluids and follicles

and rhythms pernicious

for which we can ill afford to provide floaties to say nothing of the exorbitant cost

of ammunition


billy-clubs patrol cars German Shepherds evacuation of livestock at the fairgrounds and

price of imprisonment

in said facilities soon to be brimming with mulattos in swim trunks and where

will the goats


where will the cows go?


[Questions from the Future]

Instead of letting us swim together, the city built a kiddy train around the lake as if that would slake our need for immersion, but why would you call a train built for children the Chimneyville Choo-Choo? The newspapers re-named antebellum Jackson “Chimneyville” after Grant’s troops discovered a stash of rum and matches and torched nearly everything within drunk-marching distance to the Bowen House where the General himself entertained Northern dignitaries in the fire light of the burning city on an otherwise mild evening in May, 1863. Why not just call the kiddy train, The Ongoing Civil War, or The Train on Which You Can Not Swim?


[The Train]

             Hurry if you want to catch 
         the Chimneyville Choo-Choo! 
      Faster than a caterpillar, 
   lumbering toward the library, 
slinking past the Doric gazebo 
 and its fluted roof that beams 
  like a pawn shop Rolex 
    on the wrist of civic pride. 
      Onward chugs our half-pint 
        express, our loco locomotive, 
           nine cars long, two seats wide, 
              blowing hard its pre-recorded 
                 whistle. Look, ducks! Black
               and white, patrolling the shore, all 
            waddle and quack for a saltine
        cracker! Sad boo-boo prize,
     the only thing this train 
   does with a modicum of alacrity 
is bore the hell out of us. 


[The Boredom]

Darryl said it sucked, and I said it too,
sitting on the hill watching the train enter
and exit its covered wooden bridge
like a python that ate a pig that ate a forest.
Our cause neither history nor justice,
we laid long an ellipses of rocks
on one modest stretch of Choo-Choo track.
Like robbers in a dusty Western,
we ducked inside the hollow trunk
of a zombified oak that was not
well ventilated and which Darryl said
smelled like white people. I smelled
myself to check. We peeked out,
petrified with excitement when
the train shot around the corner
at a blistering speed of maybe
three miles per hour. Neither engine
nor caboose jumped the rails or rolled
downhill in flames. A disgruntled
park employee in engineer’s hat
disembarked, cleared the rocks,
his passengers confused, perhaps,
but not fearful, not clutching
their purses or passing out. We tried,
me and Darryl, but we found
no trouble and did not tell our fathers
after sprinting the five blocks
back to Clinton Avenue
where they stood in the buggy gloam
drinking tallboys in paper sacks,
man-gabbing from either side
of the chain-link fence
that separated the grassless dirt
of our respective yards.