All that Remains by Melissa Chappell

Between the years of 1882 and 1968,

there were 3445 lynchings of Black Americans.[i]

It has been suggested that the number is underreported.

The morning rose from its vermillion bed

to find no buzzards circling in their wanton

sky. Why would they, when nothing remains,

except the sorrowing bones of a burned tree, its pungent

incense a cry to a God who strains to grant mercy?

Yet everything remains, in the cruel pockets

and purses of the watchers ; a molar here, a

dark earlobe there. Too much, too much.

He was joined by hemp rope in the howling moonlight

to an old poplar, which, out of all the trees, he

had chosen it to give him shade after he had picked

sweating cotton for a nickel- backed day. He rested against

its bark, felt it burrowing into his skin. Closing his

umber eyes, he saw the blue dream of a sky,

his riotous vegetable garden, the flame-red cardinal

blazing past. He inhaled, and the sweetness

of a gardenia wafted through the air. He exhaled,

and felthis own deep slow breath, leaving his lungs,

towards the outer light. And the still, silence

within him sounded, “How beautiful”.

The next morning—with the last cold stars

refusing to shine—rose up to see all that remained.

Only the old weeping poplar, dying, its red heart turning

ashen gray, lay there in the cruel charred claw of the earth,

for he had been born away in flame, there in God’s garden.

[i]Archives  at Tuskegee Institute

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