I wrote this poem a few days after the tragedy and genocide at the AME Church on Calhoun Street; although I can’t say that I have been in the church, as a former resident of Charleston, I knew where it was (across from Marion Square) and just down the street from MUSC where my daughter was born in 1994. I focused not on those gun deaths, but rather, on the emblem that seemed to have inspired them. Then, a few weeks later, the great state of South Carolina took action up in Columbia, and the legislators and Governor agreed to remove the flag from the state house grounds, and, as my poem predicted and alludes to, removed it to the SC Archives and Historical Museum and Relic Room.
You can learn more about it from NPR:
The image I chose to feature is of two children from Congo who were ‘behanded’ by white Belgian thugs for not picking enough rubber in the 19th century.
That thrilling, hateful flag
For F. Francis Casey
Years ago, before you were born, evil yet attractive colors
Fluttered like a virgin
Above the dome
At the statehouse in Columbia
When I settled there for school
My mother said
And I agreed.
She had driven me down South and hugged me to tears at Patterson Hall.
What was that that so defiantly gawked upon us?
On the slender flagpole that held the symmetrical and professional flag of the United States of America
And the Palmetto and crescent moon in a dark blue field
Flag of the State of South Carolina.
A year later, I had seen that battle flag many times, including above your father’s bed
On our house on Graymont Street
A few blocks down from the Fireworks store
And the Piggly Wiggly
I saw it again on a New Year’s Eve in 1985, and heard the sublime anthem
I wish I were in Dixie, Away, Away!
Always you were my Black Flag, my Never Mind the Bullocks, my Safe European Home
You were and are the day when we drove from the fucking suburbs
To Ann Arbor to hand in your application
Which was the day he died Dec. 22 2002
The piles of discrimination that your uncle
Using the N word with so much real and raw anger
That your indomitable grandfather who loved you better than us all
Also used, thought, believed, accepted, practiced
But then at the Plantation museums on the Ashley
And in Charleston
At the Slave Market this can’t be right this can’t be the place
Where even the Huguenots
Bid on and sold
This is what the flag is
Even in the hushed and dulcet displays of the South Carolina Historical Museum
An embarrassing edge to the SC Museum where dinosaurs and Velcro exhibits ease the unease of random
Yankees who are all right with all the drama because they can leave
But in that cool dark space there are shrouds beneath glass
Displayed like the relics that they are
Battle flags where men fought under and died died died
Bloated and stupid
Not even slave holders
General Lee with his white hair at Gettysburg ordering his men to Little Round Top and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain from Maine
There with his younger brother Thomas
There to stop this war of territory and those killer angels in grey rags, boys from
Moncks Corner and Beaufort and Sumter
Forest, the Confederate battle flag is only a symbol
But it has done in and twisted so many men to third Reich like emotion
That is not there,
By no real cause,
And nothing bad has happened
And nothing worthy of bolting an iron shank around the ankle of a person
And raping a person
And selling a person’s children and spouse
And not paying a person for labor rendered
And not teaching a person to read
And beating a person senseless until death
And making a person pick cotton, beans, soy, indigo, rice, strawberries, tomatoes
In the 100 degree heat of a South Carolina July
Your fore bearers were wrong.
You know that the human genome is just what it is for all of us and there is
No such thing as race.
When you, I, and Jonmarion saw Crosby Stills & Nash at the Township Theater
In early fall 1993,
David Crosby stepped forward on the patterned but dirty oriental rugs they played upon
He was barefoot
How can you guys, y’all, stand this?
Meaning the heat
Because the AC was busted and dad was on the main floor getting high with friends
And I was up in the balcony with you guys
The song ‘Southern Cross’ was the answer
The Southern Cross is the lynching tree, the place where persons died.