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Three Poems For Martin Luther King Day

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Author Topic: Three Poems For Martin Luther King Day  (Read 58 times)
Jenna Bluehut
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« on: January 18, 2010, 09:23:48 pm »

Riot

A riot is the language of the unheard.
--Martin Luther King

John Cabot, out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,
all whitebluerose below his golden hair,
wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,
almost forgot his Jaguar and Lake Bluff;
almost forgot Grandtully (which is The
Best Thing That Ever Happened To Scotch); almost
forgot the sculpture at the Richard Gray
and Distelheim; the kidney pie at Maxim's,
the Grenadine de Boeuf at Maison Henri.

Because the Negroes were coming down the street.

Because the Poor were sweaty and unpretty
(not like Two Dainty Negroes in Winnetka)
and they were coming toward him in rough ranks.
In seas. In windsweep. They were black and loud.
And not detainable. And not discreet.

Gross. Gross. "Que tu es grossier!" John Cabot
itched instantly beneath the nourished white
that told his story of glory to the World.
"Don't let It touch me! the blackness! Lord!" he whispered
to any handy angel in the sky.
But, in a thrilling announcement, on It drove
and breathed on him: and touched him. In that breath
the fume of pig foot, chitterling and cheap chili,
malign, mocked John. And, in terrific touch, old
averted doubt jerked forward decently,
cried, "Cabot! John! You are a desperate man,
and the desperate die expensively today."

John Cabot went down in the smoke and fire
and broken glass and blood, and he cried "Lord!
Forgive these nigguhs that know not what they do."

It's easy to imagine why some critics accused Brooks of celebrating violence here, though the poem is more complex than that. And notice how Brooks employs an epigraph from Dr. King: she uses a quote from a man committed to non-violence in a way that seems to justify violence. Don't blame the rioters too much for harming Cabot, the epigraph implies, they were "unheard" and needed a way to speak.

While "Riot" mined the anger underlying the civil rights movement and the violence that sprung up from it, Nikki Giovanni's "A Poem on the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy" meditates on the grief born from the movement's losses. Bobby Kennedy was, of course, a key figure in the movement, and Giovanni probably had Dr. King--assassinated just two months before--in mind as well.
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