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Dar He

When I am the lone listener to the antiphony of crickets
and the two wild tribes of cicadas and let my mind
wander to its bogs, its sloughs where no endorphins fire,

I will think on occasion how all memory is longing
for the lost energies of innocence, and then one night –
whiskey and the Pleiades, itch from a wasp sting –

I  realize it is nearly half a century since that nightmare
in Money, Mississippi, when Emmett Till was dragged
from his uncle Mose Wright’s cabin by two strangers

because he might have wolf-whistled at Carolyn Bryant,
a white woman from whom he had bought candy,
or maybe he just whispered “Bye,” as the testimony

was confused and jangled by fear.  The boy was not local,
and Chicago had taught him minor mischief, but what
he said hardly matters, as he never got to testify,

for the trial was for murder after his remains were dredged
from the Tallahatchie River, his smashed body with one
eye gouged out and a bullet in the brain and lashed

with barbed wire to a cotton gin fan whose vanes
might have to him seemed petals of some metal flower,
had Bobo  – as friends called him – ever seen it.  And why

this might matter to me tonight is that I was not yet eight
when the news hit and can remember my parents at dinner –
maybe glazed ham, probably hand-whipped potatoes,

iced tea sweeter than candy, as it was high summer –
shaking their heads in passing and saying it was a shame,
but the boy should have been smarter and known never

to step out of his place, especially that far South.  Did I
even guess, did I ask how a word or stray note could give birth
to murder?  He was fourteen, and on our flickering new TV,

sober anchormen from Atlanta registered their shock,
while we ate our fine dinner and listened to details
from the trial in Sumner, though later everyone learned

the crime occurred in Sunflower County, and snoopy
reporters from up north had also discovered that missing
witnesses – Too Tight Collins among them – could

finger the husband Roy Bryant and his step-brother
named Milam as the men in the truck who asked, “Where
the boy done the talking?” and dragged Emmett Till

into the darkness.  His mother Mamie, without whom
it would have all passed in the usual secrecy, requested
an open-casket funeral, so the mourners saw the body

maimed beyond recognition – his uncle had known
the boy only by a signet ring – and Jet magazine
then showed photos, working up the general rage

and indignation, so the trial was speedy, five days
with a white jury, which acquitted, the foreman
reporting that the state had not adequately established

the identity of the victim, and I don’t know how
my father the cop or his petite wife the Den Mother
took it all, though in their eighties they have no love

for any race darker than a tanned Caucasian.  I need
a revelation to lift me from the misery of remembering,
as I get the stigma of such personal history twisted

into the itch of that wasp sting.  Milam later told Life
he and Bryant were “guilty as sin,” and there is some
relief in knowing their town shunned them and drove

Bryant out of business, but what keeps haunting me –
glass empty, the insect chorus fiercer, more shrill –
is the drama played out in my mind like a scene

from some reverse To Kill a Mockingbird – or worse,
a courtroom fiasco from a Faulkner novel – when
the prosecutor asked Mr. Wright if he could find

in the room the intruder who snatched his nephew
out of bed that night, and the old man – a great uncle,
really – fought back his sobs and pointed at the accused,

his finger like a pistol aimed for the heart.  “Dar he,”
he said, and the syllables yet echo into this raw night
like a poem that won’t be silenced, like the choir

of seventeen-year insects, their voices riddling strange
as sleigh bells through the summer air, the horrors
of injustice still simmering, and I now wonder what

that innocence I miss might have been made of –
smoke?  rhinestones?  gravied potatoes followed
by yellow cake and milk?  Back then we called

the insect infestation ferros, thinking of Hebrew
captivity in Egypt and believing they were chanting
free us, instead of the come hither new science

insists on, but who can dismiss the thought
that some fifty years back their ancestors dinned
a river of sound all night extending lament

to lamentation, and I am shaken by the thought
of how easy it is for me to sit here under sharp
stars which could mark in heaven the graves

of tortured boys and inhale the dregs of expensive
whiskey the color of a fox, how convenient
to admit where no light shows my safe face

that I have been less than innocent this entire
life and never gave a second thought to this:
even the window fan cooling my bedroom

stirs the air with blades, and how could anyone
in a civilized nation ever be condemned for
narrowing breath to melody between the teeth,

and if this is an exercise in sham shame I am
feeling, some wish for absolution, then I have to
understand the wave of nausea crossing me,

this conviction that it is not simple irony
making the whir of voices from the pine trees
now seem to say Dar he, Dar he, Dar he.

By R. T. Smith
Recipient of the 2013 Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize

Reprinted by permission of University of Arkansas Press
from Outlaw Style by R. T. Smith.
Copyright © 2007 by R. T. Smith.

© 2006 Carole Weinstein. All rights reserved.