April is Poetry Month!
On this year’s 50th anniversary of the March on Selma, it seems fitting to publish Hilvie’s poem, written soon after the tragic events of that day.
Not With a Fist (Selma)
by Hilvie Ostrow, Becketwood Member
A poem dedicated to the Rev. James Reeb, who died in the cause of civil rights in Alabama (1965)
I see him come.
A young man comes to Selma
Drawn by his magnetic dream
His love laid bare,
He comes to fight
Not with a fist, but with a prayer.
I see him come
And join a gallant group of men,
For on that bloody Sunday
He had watched them march past hostile houses
Where icy faces glared behind the panes of hate.
Past frozen lines of billy-clubs and then
Across the bridge they marched.
Till they were forced to hesitate,
When suddenly, a barricade of brutal arms,
Like vengeful dogs, unleashed for mad attack,
With fists of steel
Lashed out in front and back.
Defenseless in the calloused crash of clubs,
The rain of gas,
The marchers sang their unrelenting battle hymn again.
They ran, confused, between the horses' feet,
And, stumbling, raised their faces in a mute appeal,
While brotherhood lay bleeding on the street.
Because he listened to the tide
of anguish sweep the battered caravan,
And heard his dream of freedom when it cried for help
This gallant man
Came down to Selma.
I see him come
And then on Tuesday
Join the courageous corps of men,
Linking arms with darker ones on either side.
They march and sing—till at the bridge
The barricade repels them once again.
The young man meets his friends
For dinner at a small cafe.
They speak of injuries, of blows,
Of food for bodies, visions of a better day.
Gray gives way to black as night appears.
The young man leaves, his dream still hungry,
But his body fed.
Then, suddenly, he hears the jangling jeers,
He feels the frenzied jumble of white weapons
In a dizzy blaze upon his head,
And with one brazen blow—
A valiant man of God lies dead!
I see him die
While cowards squirm and hide
Behind a stein of beer, a shallow grin.
Their vengeance lies exhausted, spent.
They wrap their shame in calloused pride.
But Death has tarnished their content.
The heat of hate grows cold inside.
The streets are silent now.
I feel the ache of pity fill the air,
Distilling into healing rain
On broken backs, bowed in despair.
I hear the harmony of heartbreak
Shudder into silent chords of pain.
Because a brave young man lies dead
His voice is mute, and yet,
Where’er the music of his martyrdom
Quickens the pulse of freedom in the hearts of men Numb harmonies explode into a swell of song
And JAMES REEB LIVES AGAIN!