after George Jackson

Because something else must belong to him,
More than these chains, these cuffs, these cells—
Something more than Hard Rock’s hurt,
More than remembrances of where men
Go mad with craving—corpuscle, epidermis,
Flesh, men buried in the whale of it, all of it,
Because the so many of us mute ourselves,
Silent before the box, fascinated by the drama
Of confined bodies on prime-time television,
These prisons sanitized for entertainment &;
These indeterminate sentences hidden, because
We all lack this panther’s rage, the gift
Of Soledad &; geographies adorned with state numbers
&; names of the dead &; dying etched on skin,
This suffering, wild loss, under mass cuffs,
Those buried hours must be about more
Than adding to this surfeit of pain as history
As bars that once held him embrace us.


From Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Reginald Dwayne Betts. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets

About this Poem

“In 1961, George Jackson received a one-year-to-life sentence for armed robbery. A decade later, after becoming far more aware of the racial tension in America and far more politicized, Jackson was murdered under suspicious circumstances in San Quentin. Jackson wrote of himself, ‘I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me.’ This poem, a riff on Robert Hayden’s ‘Frederick Douglass,’ is me trying to think about America’s legacy, from Hard Rock to Douglass (though he goes unnamed) to Jackson to us.”
—Reginald Dwayne Betts