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)