James Earl Ray*
by CL Bledsoe
We didn't mind the day off
from school, but we refused solemnity, refused
to let them think they'd been proven right
by martyrdom; we were ashamed
We joked in the halls –
It's James Earl Ray Day, no school Monday!
And smiled when the black kids
I'm thinking about this years
later, in an ATM drive through—a sign says Closed
For Lee King Day. Who's he? I wonder
before I realize they've buried
Dr. King's name behind Southern
I'm older, now, but that dumb and mean
kid I used to be still has his friends
to hide behind. I consider moving
my account, but the bank is closed until tomorrow.
I have to wait,
and sit with this.
*Originally appeared in the Arkanssa Review
by CL Bledsoe
tied rebel yells to their truck antennas
when they cruised the loop at Sonic.
They drove up slow and made sure
they weren’t alone before turning in.
Couldn’t be too safe from gangs,
they said. If they caught a black kid alone,
they’d drop off their girlfriends for safety
and follow him, force his car into the parking lot
of the old Jitney-Jungle, two, three trucks
full of grinning, yellow-toothed white boys
with bats, brass knuckles, wrenches. A couple
carried ropes for a joke. Mostly, they’d laugh
while the black kids beat feet.
In the school parking lot, they untied the flags
from their trucks so they wouldn’t be suspended
and stalked the halls bragging about the tooth-necklaces
they were going to collect as soon as somebody
stood his ground. They talked about getting tattoos
but couldn’t decide between crosses
or flags—they needed something to set them apart.
They’d never hide their dignity under hoods
like their daddies, they said, never march
on city hall to be ridiculed. They smoked cigarettes
in the parking lot, picked fights
with the skinny freshmen, but dropped their eyes
when the older black kids strode by.
*Originally appeared in Pank Magazine