Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

When I Consider the Open Casket: For Emmett Till

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

When I Consider the Open Casket: For Emmett Till

Article excerpt

Emmett's skin hung loose like a browning pear

There would have been crisscrossing

If waterlogged skin would hold any imprint

Any language other than the song of the South

When I consider the smell of Murray's pomade and Faultless starch

Replaced by no frankincense, mirth resounding

Right eye plucked out like a meek catfish

The hole in the skull like sea coral

The Mississippi runs rogue through it

The Jet on the coffee table made for teeth gnashing

Ms. Mamie said he had only one tooth left

Emmett's slim fourteen-year-old shoulders

Swelled, the algae of the Tallahatchie river; pocket psalms

When I consider minnows swimming through his body

Like Blackbeard's sunken ship

Take off your clothes, boy!

The coliseum in Money, Mississippi on that August evening

A place where browned gladiators are stripped

Their winged bodies are Maypoles

When I consider Miss Mamie pulling nails

From that pine box to show the world

Emmett's neck broken like a Christmas chicken

Submerged by Eli Whitney's cotton gin fan

When I consider Emmett calling to me

Through loveless black boys, gyrating black girls

I heard him call too, once in a sixteen-year-old summer. …

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