Georgia, 1963; a poem by Kirk Etherton ( WCM, issue# 6)

Georgia, 1963
For my aunt Wendy

They spotted you easily,
an insurgent from the North
armed with pamphlets
encouraging all those far-from-
equal resident Negroes—before
they became Blacks and African-
Americans—to register
to vote.

The scene was an outrage
clearly, to the local police:
like the “coloreds,” you didn’t
know your place and so
they judiciously housed you
in a jail cell as you awaited trial
on charges of vagrancy (not far
from the house you were living in).

Idealism and political passions
were running high: following a speech by
Dr. Martin Luther King, a group of Whites
was actually moved to approach
three all-Black churches and
burn them to the ground.

Having just earned a B.A.
in art history, you’d chosen
to continue your education — total

immersion graduate work in
witnessing and shaping American history,
its civil rights, uncivil wrongs, walking
the long roads of rutted red clay
that began where the smooth blacktop
of the white neighborhoods ended,
knocking on the dusty doors

of sharecroppers and tenant farmers
who seldom answered, as they knew
registering to vote might mean hope,
but usually meant an eviction notice.

So much I don’t know: how
the “jury of your peers”
that found you innocent
was ever found
there in what was known
as “Terrible Terrell” County; how

you kept on going until
you decided it was time to leave —
then return and build a pre-school
next to one of those red-clay roads; how

anyone can hear pleasing music
in a church going up and
down in flames.

Thinking about art and history,
I often wish you’d been able,
somehow, to take with you the heavy
front door of that first house
you lived in, the door

with all the bullets clearly buried
by drive-by shootings from
the local “welcome wagon”
of the Ku Klux Klan. I wish

you and I could hang it
in the Museum of Modern Art
and see if from a distance of
five decades, we can come up with
a really good title.

Kirk Etherton >
Kirk Etherton is a poet, songwriter, playwright, and visual artist. He won Ibbetson Street Poetry Prize in 2009 for ‘ Georgia, 1963,’ about his aunt Wendy and the civil right movement. Kirk has performed music, poetry and standup comedy in venues ranging from the Middle East Restaurant to Berklee College of Music to the Out of The Blue Gallery and Comedy Studio. He has also won dozens of Awards for advertising. During his last performance as a co-featuring guest at Chelsea Public Library this July 15th, he performed a “little bit of everything,” as he had promised a gifted with a rock for which he had dived twenty five feet down a pond only to turn into an other “object trouve” he had skillfully and artistically wrapped in the’waist.


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