I wasn’t sure if I should post this poem, since it is seriously outdated, but then I decided it is of historical interest. When I wrote it in 1985, it was with not a little bit of hostility. But now when I read it, I see things differently; I see the people in this poem with more compassion. The truth is, white America had no idea how to honor Martin Luther King Jr., but at least they wanted to do the right thing. I’ve heard it said with regard to religious faith, that if you just go through the rituals, you’ll eventually believe in them. After 24 years of America’s going through the ritual, this holiday has become real, and serious, and dignified. This, then, is the perspective of a much younger me of the first Martin Luther King birthday celebration.
On The Occasion of the First
Official Recognition of MLK’s Birthday
The former director of the CIA
stands soleemnly over the grave
of the man assassinated by the FBI
less than two decades ago.
TV projects the dead man’s image
accompanied by ads for the UAW
not to mention
plugs for Coca Cola.
Diana, Stevie, Lionel & Liz
appear in sequins and feathers.
Each proclaims with a tear or a grin,
“I am part of the dream.”
(The growing hordes of homeless and hungry
must be part of someone else’s nightmare.)
In Atlanta near the church
where four young girls were killed
where crackers unleashed dogs,
a statue is erected.
State recognition didn’t come easy
but was wrenched from America
by more demonstrations.
No mention of these on national TV:
Today is a day for celebration.