not as in pin, the kind that keeps the wheels
turning, and not the strip of land that marks
the border between two fields. unrelated
to link, as in chain, or by extension whatever
connects one part to another, and therefore
not a measure of a chain, which in any
case is less than the span of a hand hold-
ing the reins, the rope, the hoe, or taking
something like justice into itself, as when
a captain turned judge and gave it his name.
that was before it lost its balance and crossed
the border, the massed body of undoers
claiming connection, relation, an intimate
right to the prized parts, to the body undone.
* * * *
there was a second another
a white there were two
that night the second an after
thought said one of the papers
the other said when they couldn’t find
the second black in the jail they took
instead the white who’d murdered
his wife because (she said before
she died) she’d refused—
not prejudice the papers
said the hanging of Henry Salzner
proves they were not moved by race
Selections from Blue Front (Graywolf Press 2006). Used by permission.
Note: In Blue Front Collins describes the lynching of a Black man - and later, a white man - in Cairo, IL in 1909, an event her father witnessed when he was five years old. The book, part lyric and part narrative, is a collage of investigation into this event, and an exploration of hate, mob mentality, and race in America.
Martha Collins’ work Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006) won an Anisfield-Wolf Award and was chosen as one of “25 Books to Remember from 2006” by the New York Public Library. Collins has also published four collections of poems, two collections of co-translations of Vietnamese poetry, and two chapbooks of poems. Other awards include fellowships from the NEA, the Bunting Institute, and the Witter Bynner Foundation. Collins founded the Creative Writing Program at UMass-Boston, and for ten years was Pauline Delaney Professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College. She is currently editor-at-large for FIELD magazine and one of the editors of the Oberlin College Press. www.marthacollinspoet.com
Collins will be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 10-13, 2010 in Washington, DC. The festival will present readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, film, activism—four days of creative transformation as we imagine a way forward, hone our community and activist skills, and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change. For more information: email@example.com.
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