that boy from georgia is coming through here

they changed curtains
waxed floors
aired out the front company room
sent for camphor to lay throughout the house
they cooked all night
boiled bath water all day
cornbread, okra, turnip salad, stewed chicken,
fried chicken, dressing,
killed the prized hen
gravy, corn, potatoes, rice, sweet potato custard,
lemon pie, rice pudding, coconut cake,
chocolate cake, lemonade, and your chittlins,
all for you martin,
word was given sunday
that you was coming
to their corner
so they swept dirt yards
put the chickens up
hung out the special quilt
laid out the catalog sheets
put fresh oil in all the lamps
cause you never could tell
just how long you’d want to stay
a war on evil takes a lot of planning
takes a lot to get troops
stirred up.
so stewed corn with fatback, fried chicken
sliced tomatoes and cucumbers in vinegar
were passed around several times
soldiers need meat on their bones
walking through dustbowls
riding on the blade
of a lightning rod
those old sisters
their front rooms for you
opened preserves and jams
that had been put away
for something special
you were a something special
tall, brown, sweet with dreams
like their own sons
when they were about your age
before they drowned
in the dust
that you so gallantly
stepped lightly through
these were your first infantry, martin
whose words and dreams
shot straight bullets
these were your first line
always ready to rinse out
a soul or two
these were the first line who put the armor
of sassafras, high john the conqueror, and
blood root
inside your shoes
made mountains continue to grow
in your daytime dreams.
yes, martin, songs
sung in kitchens
on front porches
in turnip patches
at hog-killings
carried the same verses
carried the same weapons
carried the same vision
in your name they gathered
washing, sharpening knives
polishing bullets
painting numbers
on their children’s heads

From Breath of the Song: New and Selected Poems (Carolina Wren Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Jaki Shelton Green. Used with the permission of the author.