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Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006)

Bluefront cover

Martha Collins's father, as a five-year-old boy, sold fruit in front of the Blue Front Restaurant in Cairo, Illinois, in November 1909. What he witnessed there, along with the reported 10,000 participants, is shocking.

From Blue Front

There were trees on those streets that were named
for trees: Sycamore, Cedar, Poplar, Pine,
Elm, where the woman's body was found,
where the man's body was taken and burned—

There must have been trees, there were trees
on Seventh Street, in front of the house that stands
in the picture behind the carriage that holds
the boy's mother, the boy's cousin, the boy—

And of course there were trees on Washington
Avenue, wide boulevard lined with exotic
ginkgoes, stately magnolias,
there were trees
on that street that are still on that street,

trees that shaded the fenced-in yards of the large
Victorian houses, the mansion built by the man
who sold flour to Grant for the Union troops,
trees that were known to the crowd that saw

the victim hanged, though not on a tree, this
was not the country, they used a steel arch
with electric lights, and later a lamppost, this
was a modern event, the trees were not involved.

hang

as a mirror on a wall, or the fall
of a dress. a dress, a shirt on a line
to fasten to dry. on the rack, or back
in the closet again, a sweet curse
on it all, sliver of nail, delayed
attack. shamed creature, a curse
on itself, so the act of doing it
changes the verb, tense with not
quite right. with rope, like a swing
from a tree. from a pole, like a flag,
or holidays, from an arch lit bright
with lights. in the night, in the air
like a shirt. without, or with only
a shirt. without, like an empty sleeve.

  • for other excerpts from Blue Front, go to:
  • Poets.org

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