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Sam Hamill: Remembering Gwendolyn Brooks

When I was a boy on a Utah farm,

I listened to Chicago blues and dreamed

of the city’s big shoulders and wide arms

and the roads leading up from the Delta

old bluesmen escaping poverty’s chains.

And watched on tv the “troubles Down South,”

the clubs, vicious dogs, and water hoses

blasting people down the streets. Horrified,

I couldn’t shake those images for my life.

In nineteen-fifty-five they killed a boy

who was just my age, and his mother

showed the photographs, the brutality

of what they had done. I swore I’d not forget.

Years later, I marched with many others,

one step at a time, against violence,

against the big machine that grinds people

into fodder, into shame, into hate.

Gwendolyn Brooks was in my mouth and ears,

and I can hear it still—my voice shaking,

rising, as I read to an audience

her poem about the bean eaters, through tears,

trembling, her “Last Quatrain of the Ballad

of Emmett Till.”

Copyright 2018 Sam Hamill

Sam Hamill’s books include Crossing the Yellow River: Three Hundred Poems from the Chinese  published by Tiger Bark Press and Habitation: Collected Poems published by Lost Horse Press.


Sam Hamill (1943-2018)

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