ALL Y’ALL REALLY FROM ALABAMA

“...The straitjackets of race prejudice and discrimination do not wear only southern labels. The subtle, psychological technique of the North has approached in its ugliness and victimization of the Negro the outright terror and open brutality of the South.”
            ― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can't Wait (Beacon Press, 2011)

                      this       here       the      cradle      of      this      here
                      nation—everywhere  you   look,  roots   run   right
                      back  south.  every  vein filled with red dirt, blood,
                      cotton.   we   the   dirty  word  you  spit  out   your
                      mouth.  mason  dixon  is  an  imagined  line—you
                      can  theorize  it, or wish it real, but  it’s  the  same
                      old  ghost—see-through,   benign.   all   y’all  from
                      alabama;  we  the wheel  turning  cotton  to make
                      the nation move. we the scapegoat in a land built
                      from death. no longitude or latitude disproves
                      the truth of founding fathers’ sacred oath:
                                 we hold these truths like dark snuff in our jaw,
                                 Black oppression’s not happenstance; it’s law.

Related Poems

Amos, 1963

Amos is a Shepherd of suffering sheep;
A pastor preaching in the depths of Alabama
Preaching social justice to the Southland
Preaching to the poor a new gospel of love
With the words of a god and the dreams of a man
Amos is our loving Shepherd of the sheep
Crying out to the stricken land
“You have sold the righteous for silver
And the poor for a pair of shoes.
My God is a mighty avenger
And He shall come with His rod in His hand.”
Preaching to the persecuted and the disinherited millions
Preaching love and justice to the solid southern land
Amos is a Prophet with a vision of brotherly love
With a vision and a dream of the red hills of Georgia
“When Justice shall roll down like water
And righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Amos is our Shepherd standing in the Shadow of our God
Tending his flocks all over the hills of Albany
And the seething streets of Selma and of bitter Birmingham.

John Henry

If you believe what you hear, he was everywhere
from Virginia to Alabama just beyond every holler.

Which is to say he was everywhere and everywhere
he was, he was unwanted. In one story, they say it

happened because if a white man said it happened,
then it happened. In another, he was a prisoner which

is more plausible because only a man who lives in darkness
can be felled by the light. But if it happened that often,

there had to be more than one, or maybe it was everyone
or all of us and maybe he stood down there at the cold face

shoulders stooped and begged a mountain move
which we all have done some time or another. Maybe he

prayed for strength to move it as we do some time or
another. But this we can say is true: the world sent

a man down into the earth one day—the same world
who fixed his shackles, closed each door, the world

which said no, and no, and no like so many stones.
The world sent a man into the earth one day to leave

him. That man emerged from the earth with one word
that the earth had been holding, and in that moment

he broke the earth, stumbled out into the chilly air
before he fell, he brought this one word to us. Liar.

Jasmine

I sit beside two women, kitty-corner
to the stage, as Elvin's sticks blur
the club into a blue fantasia.
I thought my body had forgotten the Deep
South, how I'd cross the street
if a woman like these two walked
towards me, as if a cat traversed
my path beneath the evening star.
Which one is wearing jasmine?
If my grandmothers saw me now
they'd say, Boy, the devil never sleeps.
My mind is lost among November
cotton flowers, a soft rain on my face
as Richard Davis plucks the fat notes
of chance on his upright
leaning into the future.
The blonde, the brunette—
which one is scented with jasmine?
I can hear Duke in the right hand
& Basie in the left
as the young piano player
nudges us into the past.
The trumpet's almost kissed
by enough pain. Give him a few more years,
a few more ghosts to embrace—Clifford's
shadow on the edge of the stage.
The sign says, No Talking.
Elvin's guardian angel lingers
at the top of the stairs,
counting each drop of sweat
paid in tribute. The blonde
has her eyes closed, & the brunette
is looking at me. Our bodies
sway to each riff, the jasmine
rising from a valley somewhere
in Egypt, a white moon
opening countless false mouths
of laughter. The midnight
gatherers are boys & girls
with the headlights of trucks
aimed at their backs, because
their small hands refuse to wound
the knowing scent hidden in each bloom.