For John Lewis

O holy martyr
            when you crossed the river
       to be beaten by
                     the state troopers of the Promised Land
O redeemer of Dixieland
                      when you felt the clubs touch
                                                  skin and blood
       and blood touch dirt,
                            how could you not question America?

O solemn soldier
               we should not praise you
      solely to shirk
                    our duty
O stalwart protector
                   but when courage seems
                                        lost somewhere between
      Selma and this haze,
                          how can we not look to your beatified lisp?

O congressman
               speaker in the storied halls
                                           you are soon
      to leave
             and soon we will have
                                 to grieve
             but before you slip back
      into the heavenly mists
                              I have a question
         just a moment
                      to board the inevitable boat
                                                of deserved peace

O father
         living voice of the
O prophet of
           past promises to be fulfilled,
                                         did you think you would survive Alabama
      to see Washington this year,
                                 to be felled by silently duplicating cells?

and this is no sycophant’s
                          sonnet to
                                no bard’s broken bow
                                                    to patrons
                          long gone
this is the scribe
                   trying to remember the way
         the Alabama must have looked
                                      below that bridge
                                                        forty years before
his birth
                        Southern Wisconsin
a million odes
              four thousand more apostrophes
old man river of memory
                              old man river of spilt blood
                    not to be forgotten,
before we take up
                  the yoke of remembrance
                                         before we lose oracles to time
the way carpets become shaggy and grey
                         renew our faith

O marching freedom rider
                        renew our faith
                                       before we forget the desert
     and begin to wallow in
                           the sweet baths of the Promised Land,
                                                                before we can no longer see
     the poverty and the thousand Mississippis

and we want to fall
                    to the hardwood and
       beg for this renewal
                           this final precept from the philosopher
we all want to scream for
                         losing memory
       to see you somehow
                         lift us from ignorance
     our heads must stare at Abel’s
                                   cracked skull
        must gouge our eyes of incest
before we can be


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