National Poetry Month: Day 7. “King: April 7, 1968” by Geoffrey Brock


King: April 7, 1968

      We had wanted, at least, to touch your sleeve.
      We brought both babies as to a christening.
      —Van K. Brock, “King”

We stood in line for hours to see his body.
My parents said they knew the line would be long.
They took turns carrying my brother I walked beside them.

They say twelve hundred people filed past each hour.
They say the casket was African mahogany lined with white silk.
His face looked waxy women bent to kiss it.
His moustache was perfectly trimmed I have seen pictures.

My parents said they knew the line would be long.
President Johnson had declared it a national day of mourning.
My brother was one and a half I was three and a half.
My brother was crying my brother was hungry.

I don’t know how I felt probably scared.
I don’t know how I felt about the endless stricken faces.
I know they were stricken I have seen pictures.

That day riots were everywhere people were dying but not here.
That day in Washington hundreds of fires were burning.
They say it looked from the air like it had been bombed such smoke.

That day our planes were bombing North Vietnam.
And that day the bodies were rotting unburied in My Lai.
And that day King’s brother was giving a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist
called “Why America May Go to Hell.”

That day that day they say they said.
My parents knew the line would be long.
My parents taught us there’s no such thing as Hell and there’s not.
There’s nowhere for America to go.

Carmichael said it was white America that did it.
Get your gun he said some did but not here.
Hoover said the FBI would prevent the rise of a black messiah.
He didn’t say how that was a month ago.
King said longevity has its place that was four days ago.

I have no memory of the day in question.
Closing my eyes won’t bring it back pictures won’t either.
I could squint like this forever what’s the point.
There is no witness without memory.

My parents knew the line would be long but not this long.
My brother was crying my brother was tired and hungry.
If only he could have held out a while longer if only then what?
I wish I could say at least that we touched his sleeve.

We never even made it to the casket.

Geoffrey Brock

Geoffrey Brock will be a 2010-2011 fellow at the Cullman Center for
Scholars and Writers at The New York Public Library.

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →