kill without legal sanction
I was nine years old when Emmett Till was
lynched in 1955. His name and history have been a part of most of my life. When I decided to write a poem about
lynching for young people, I knew that I would write about Emmett Till. He was
lynched when he was the age of the young people who might read my poem. After revisiting what I knew about
lynching, reading more about it, and growing increasingly depressed, I also knew that I would write this poem as a heroic crown of sonnets.
a verse form of 14 lines with a fixed rhyme scheme
The rhyme scheme I chose to use in these
sonnets is called Italian, or Petrarchan (after Petrarch, 1304-1374, the poet who invented it). A crown of
sonnets is a sequence of interlinked
sonnets in which the last line of one becomes the first line, sometimes slightly altered, of the next. A heroic crown of
sonnets is a sequence of fifteen interlinked
sonnets, in which the last one is made up of the first lines of the preceding fourteen.
the state of being isolated or detached
The strict form became a kind of
insulation, a way of protecting myself from the intense pain of the subject matter, and a way to allow the Muse to determine what the poem would say.
have as a meaning
What should my wreath for Emmett Till
the state of being unsullied by sin or moral wrong
Daisies and white lilacs, for
intense sorrow caused by loss of a loved one
grief, more than one, for one
is not enough: rue, yew, cypress.
an abstracted state of absorption
If trees could speak, it could describe, in words beyond words, make us see the strange fruit that still ghosts its
cause to suffer devastation
But one night, blood, spilled at its roots,
blighted its foliage.
the savage and excessive killing of many people
slaughter axed one quiet summer night,
shivering the deep silence of the stars.
short account of an incident
She’d told him the truth of many a Mississippi
Some white folks have blind souls.
your overall circumstances or condition in life
I’d put you in a parallel universe,
give you a better
fate. There is none worse.
be or do something to a greater degree
A universe where you’d
surpass your mother’s dreams.
a radical who advocates violence against civilians
But parallel realities may have
a notice of someone's death
Let’s write the
obituary of a life
lived well and wisely, mourned by a loving wife
or partner, friends, and a vast multitude.
indicate pain, discomfort, or displeasure
Thousands of oak trees around this country
groaned with the weight of men slain for their race
pronounce not guilty of criminal charges
acquitted in almost every case.
a watery solution in the vascular system of a plant
Picked, one blackens, and one bleeds a thick red
Indian pipe, a weed
thrives on rot, is held in disesteem,
though it does have its use in nature’s scheme
make an allegation in an action or other legal proceeding
The bloodroot poppy needs
no explanation here: Its red sap
the case for its inclusion in the theme
of a wreath for the memory of Emmett Till.
a circular band of foliage or flowers for ornamentation
Though the white poppy means forgetfulness,
who could forget, when red sap on a
recalls the brown boy five white monsters killed?
belligerence aroused by a real or supposed wrong
Like the full moon, which smiled calmly on his death.
Like the stars, which fluttered their quicksilver wings.
Like the unbroken song creation sings
while humankind tramples the grapes of
Like wildflowers growing beside the path
a boy was dragged along, blood spattering
their white petals as he, abandoning
all hope, gasped his
agonizing last breath.
not subject to death
Like a nation sending its children off to fight
our faceless enemy,
the most feared enemy of the human race.
any large-scale calamity
plague of not knowing wrong from right.
an act of shocking cruelty
we must bear witness to
people in general considered as a whole
People may disappear, leaving no trace,
unless we stand before the
speak out against
denouncing the slavery to fear.
able or disposed to inflict pain or suffering
They feared because they saw their own
inner shadows, their
the farthest horizons of their own thought,
their jungles immune to the rule of law.
a state of dishonor
We can speak now, or bear unforgettable
the ability to recall past occurrences
remembrance, Shakespeare wrote.
at ease in talking to others
Emmett Louis Till was born in Chicago on July 25, 1941. He was a friendly,
extroverted African American boy who grew up during a time when racism and segregation were legal parts of the culture of the United States.
box in which a corpse is buried or cremated
Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, held an open-casket funeral in Chicago to show what had been done to her son.
stimulate to action
Graphic photos appeared in newspapers and magazines,
galvanizing anger across the nation.
discuss the pros and cons of an issue
deliberating for just over an hour, the jurors came back with a verdict of not guilty.
angered at something unjust or wrong
People around the country—both black and white—who previously had felt separated from southern racism were shocked by Emmett Till’s death and
outraged by the injustice of his killers’ trial.