Thursday, April 4, 2013

National Poetry Month—Lamont Palmer "April of 68: Martin Luther King is Dead"

National Guard troops and firefighters on the streets of Lamont Palmer's Baltimore during the riots following the King assassination

Today is the 45th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee as he prepared for another march in support of  striking garbage workers.  The night before he had given his famous I Have Been to the Mountain Top speech in which he seemed to foresee his own murder.

Like so many traumatic events in American History, Dr. King’s death unleashed a torrent of poetry by amateurs and expert practitioner of the art alike.  Much of it was far more earnest than memorable, more unfiltered cry of pain or cathartic release than anything else.  I know because I cruised the net looking for it.

I was particularly touched by one sub-genre—the assassination and the events that followed, including the wide-spread eruption of urban rioting, through the wondering eyes of a child as recalled years later by the adult.  I found examples by white and Afro-American  writers, but the ones recalling the ghetto were the most poignant.

Of these I was most impressed by this one by  Lamont Palmer.  I don’t know much about him, just snatches to biographical info here and there on the net.

Palmer was born and raised in Maryland, where he still resides.  As a young man he performed as a stand-up comic.  He settled into a career as a mental health counselor.
Although he dabbled in poetry as a teen, he abandoned his interest in it until he was in his late‘30’s when he began a serious personal study of the art.  He was influenced by the English masters, Wordsworth and Keats, the French Symbolist Stephane Mallarme, and 20th Century lyrical poet such as Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, James Merrill, W.H. Auden, and John Ashbery.  Not a bad set of teachers.

Twice nominated for the Push Cart Prize in 2011, Palmer has published poetry in online magazines including, Some Words, Ariga, Red River Review, and Strange Roads. In addition to poetry, he also writes fiction and has completed a novel which is seeking a publisher. 

April Of 68: Martin Luther King Is Dead

News preempted news, upstaging clean air,
forced and stained among our loss and hope,
while our faces? awash in speeches that cured.
Then the shot! Penetrating around the world.
Everything blackened, down to the clothes.
Pride created the luminous black ties,
And black handkerchiefs, at the sad ready,
(my classmates all had them, grievous wardrobe)
accessorizing that week against the chest
of boyhood and fear: shaky small skin.
Someone (and something) was most certainly dead!

Night. Mother’s voice, unlike I had ever heard,
Dread and urgency, her new concoction,
From window to window, changed room to changed room.
‘Where is your brother? He's supposed to
be in by 10pm.’ Darkness, a curfew,
(my brother, out, in teen oblivion)
jeeps, soldiers, a city unlike its lit, wide self.
Heavy blood, shed for life’s own heaviness:
the father of us, alive in the caustic crowds,
drank the podium pleasantries, food of leaders,
near dead, but soon wholly dead on the whole of night,
and warm laps where bleeding heads are held.
For me, a church boy, the New Testament, my story,
it was Judgment Day sweeping other days.
Looking toward the sky; expecting wrath,
I’m unprotected by deism, the doubter’s gem.

Nothing comes of guns but more guns. Smoke hurts:
smoke of insolent fire, we knew what it was,
in our dreams which lingered, long, like new jewels
from fresh caves - new and with a bemused shine.
Baltimore: never so much a fearsome scene;
to a boy, a world was growing, reaching toward
fiery doors; the year of heroes and holes.
That boy put his head in his mother's apron:
strings were like the ties that bound dead heroes.

Glimmer of damage, of the hurt, crystal-shaped,
but felt, coldly and against these faces,
settled on middleclass blocks. Pictures, dour,
of those old blocks: what has died, lives
magnanimously, in wind, in tears, and chimes,
lost chimes, lost sounds, noted by desolation.
We were not political, just a family
(safe, we thought, on placid Annellen Road)
drenched in media’s blood and perceptions,
splattered and spayed, transformed by the scene:
a decade of martyrs, falling like dark rain.

—Lamont  Palmer

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