Poem of the Week | February 06, 2017

This week, we are proud to offer a new poem by Margot Wizansky. Wizansky’s poems have appeared in many journals, such as Poetry East, Lumina, Inkwell, Quarterly West, Potomac Review, American Literary Review, and Spillway. She has edited two anthologies: Mercy of Tides: Poems for a Beach House, and Rough Places Plain: Poems of the Mountains. In Don’t Look Them In The Eye: Love, Life, and Jim Crow, she transcribed the oral history of her friend, Emerson Stamps, now 93, a grandson of slaves and son of sharecroppers. Her original poems accompany his story. Her website is www.margotwiz.com.
Author’s note:

When my friend Emerson talked about an event of 70 or 80 years ago, he remembered the dialogue, his emotional state, even the atmospheric quality of the day. As I transcribed his words, poems began to come to me, a kind of distillation of his stories. I didn’t tell Emerson about their existence at first. They weren’t my stories. When I gathered the courage to show him the poems, he said he could see himself in them and wanted them in the manuscript.

From the beginning, Emerson was afraid of his father, who taught him how to live in the white people’s world in the South, taught him how dangerous it was. “Don’t look them in the eye!” he would say. As his father was dying, he prayed for Emerson’s safety. From his bed, Emerson heard the prayer, but he was still afraid.


From the Beginning


When he’s three, he learns the Bible
from his father, who knows every word,
whose face never says love, who was raised hard


so he’d know his place—the sheriff
might shoot for no apparent reason.
Papa, in his own scary church,


is loud and boisterous, jumps up
and shouts the spirit, Papa
can stop a storm: hold her, God, hold her,


the shack rising up from its wooden blocks
and floating down precisely. While Mama
works in the white people’s kitchen,


he rolls his iron wheel
around the house, keeps watch over Papa,
who, at any moment, stiffens up and seizes,


most he can ever do, closest he can ever get.