Killing Time

Guest Contributor by Derek Liebertz, Current President of the Southern Minnesota Poets Society

Dave Tell, an associate professor at the University of Kansas, re: the sign struck with dozens of bullets memorializing the location where Emmett Till was killed —

“It is as powerful as an image I have. It moves people. It’s not just a 1955 story. It’s still something that matters in the present. Replacing it means erasing the material evidence of the way the story still grips us.”

If it were up to him, Tell said, he would leave the sign up. Bullet holes and all. Like the open casket, it forces us to look.

Mississippi time slid slow into muck

decades murdered as blithely as Emmett Till

years of potential reparation

lynched from the lofty perch of racism

Over sixty years have died

each dragged from its soft riverbank bed

fed back to itself to drown at night

when white sin could not be seen

Less than sixty minutes was killed by a jury

deliberating the innocence of those accused

free men they walked away

unlike Emmett Till

Fifty-two years

[approximately four young black lives]

bled out before our society’s glacial maturation

deemed the blight worthy of memory

and raised a red hand to history

That first sign was stolen from the land

just like Emmett Till

thrown in the river to rot

just like Emmett Till

Eventually a second sign was born

and summarily shot full of holes

[over one-hundred rounds]

disregarded for over eight years

it too slowly died

breathing muggy Mississippi air

Soon it will be sixty-five years

[approximately one old white life]

since Emmett Till inhaled liquid

since Emmett Till slept with a barbed wire necktie

since Emmett Till wasn’t white

In August 2018 [finally]

another marker was christened

aside the reeds and embarrassment

two witnesses to a crying river

despondent in its inability to cleanse

Emmett Till’s legacy

What does it say of us when

water grieves more history

than we can ingest

The second replacement sign was perforated

[it took only thirty-five days]

given the same damning treatment

shown the same lack of decency as

Emmett Till

How many generations are required

before tragedy is acknowledged

before baleful attitudes drown

Exactly how many more

Freddie Grays

Philando Castiles

Alton Sterlings

Jamar Clarks

Walter Scotts

Tamir Rices

Michael Browns

Eric Garners

George Floyds

Emmett Tills

do we need




Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close