a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
First they said they’d never move the statue.
Then, when George Floyd died, they said they’d
move the statue to the quiet edge of campus
where soldiers brought from Shiloh
who died at the campus hospital were buried—
a field of grass, anonymous
ever since a groundsman took the headstones
off to mow, and forgot where he should
put them back. Now they want to make
a Confederate shrine. A walkway with a bench
and lights will curve around the statue,
filmed for continuous surveillance.
Bless his heart, they say here. It means,
he’s really stupid. Or it means,
we see right through him. So bless their hearts,
Board of Trustees of the Institutions
of Higher Learning.
Twelve white birds in a burning tree.
I will never see Ernest again
for if someone breaks parole
and they send him back to Parchman,
they can keep him there forever.
I will never see Ernest, who could
barely read, who could barely write,
whom I taught, whom I loved,
Ernest from Jackson, who wrote about
swimming as a kid with other Black folks
at the Ross Barnett Reservoir, and when
I said, “ironic,” he grinned and said,
“I know.” Ernest the scar on whose arm
had never seen stitches, but ran
from elbow to wrist in a horrifying
flesh ditch. Who missed class twice
because the diet of bologna
stopped him up so bad
he had to go to hospital. Who was
obviously trusted, he cleaned the building
and took out trash. Who was huge, who was
housed in Prerelease not because he’d be
released but to calm the other men.
I wish you could stand in the presence
of Ernest. When we met each week,
he would hold his hand to his heart.
When we parted that last time,
we hugged each other close and long.
Why, you ask, do I not visit Ernest?
They’d never let me in, the class
is done. And I am neither friend nor family.
I’m kind of old, and ill. I grieve, but cannot march.
So I chalked Black Lives Matter
at the bottom of our driveway. Then my neighbor
chalked Black Lives Matter at the bottom
of her driveway. But now Juneteenth is over,
and someone has scrubbed the asphalt clean.
Ann Fisher-Wirth’s sixth book of poems is The Bones of Winter Birds (Terrapin Books, 2019); her fifth, Mississippi, is a poetry/photography collaboration with Maude Schuyer Clay. Ann is coeditor, with Laura-Gray Street, of The Ecopoetry Anthology (3rd edition, 2020). A senior fellow of the Black Earth Institute, Ann was 2017 Poet in Residence at Randolph College. Her work has received various awards, including the Rita Dove Prize, a Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, two MAC poetry awards, the MS Arts and Letters Poetry Prize, and 15 Pushcart nominations. She has had senior Fulbrights to Switzerland and Sweden and residencies at Djerassi, Hedgebrook, Mesa Refuge, and Camac/France. She teaches and directs the Environmental Studies minor at the University of Mississippi, and also teaches yoga in Oxford, MS. This year she is Principal Investigator for an NEH Planning Grant to develop Environmental Literacy and Community in North Mississippi.