POEM: the memory hole (for Bishop Desmond Tutu)

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the memory hole (for Bishop Desmond Tutu)

Twice this week I talked to people
who didn’t know Bishop Desmond Tutu.
The small giant with the impish laugh
who strode across the landscape of my
high school years, my classmates & I
following behind with our END APARTHEID
buttons, ordered from the Northern Sun catalog,
pinned proudly to our rugby shirts. We grew up
in a county that was nearly 100% white.
Even now, more than two decades later, I
remember the name of every person of color
I met through the age of 18. We could have
all piled into a van if we’d wanted to go
to a protest together. But of course there
were no protests to go to in our town &
it hadn’t yet occurred to any of us to start one.
Still, we knew Mandela & we watched
Denzel Washington play Stephen Biko five years
before he would introduce us to Malcolm X.
It was safer for us to know about Tutu & Biko
& Mandela. They were thousands of miles
away in a bad place that mistreated black
people. Not like our town, where a young
black woman was the vice president of the
student council. See? We would have
spent the requisite class period on the
civil rights movement if we hadn’t run
out of time in the year & been forced
to end at World War II. Still, a few of us
had our buttons & we listened to Sting
sing about Chile & U2 sing about whatever
it was they were singing about & we felt
like the sun would always shine on us.
On some weekends we’d go to the lake,
stand on the end of the pier & look out at
Squaw Island, where women & children
fled as Sullivan’s soldiers flowed like a
rushing river over the land, trying to
extinguish the flame of the Iroquois.
It turns out that story might not be true;
that in fact the island is more likely
to have been a staging area for the
Iroquois resistance. I can’t imagine why
no one taught us about that. But I digress.
This is not a poem about America.
This is a poem about a man of the cloth
in a faraway land where people
were once judged on the color of their skin,
not the content of their character.
This is not a poem about America.
This is a poem about a country where
black people had fewer rights & fewer
opportunities than white people.
This is not a poem about America.
This is a poem about a religious leader
who said enough is enough & that his people
must stand up against oppression.
This is not a poem about America.
This is a poem about a place so evil
that white men with guns could shoot
black men without guns with no fear of
reprisal or consequence.
This is not a poem about America.
This is not a poem about America.
This is not a poem about America.

/ / /

Jason Crane
25 January 2015
Oak Street

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One Response to POEM: the memory hole (for Bishop Desmond Tutu)

  1. Pingback: Paul Simon, Graceland, and the boycott against apartheid | Jason Crane (dot org)

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