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Hayden

 

Robert Hayden
1913-1980

 
"Night, Death, Mississippi"

From "A Ballad of Remembrance" 1962

 

I.
A quavering cry. Screech-owl?
Or one of them?
The old man in his reek
and gauntness laughs

One of them, I bet
and turns out the kitchen lamp,
limping to the porch to listen
in the windowless night.

Be there with Boy and the rest
if I was well again.
Time was. Time was.
White robes like moonlight

In the sweetgum dark.
Unbucked that one then
and him squealing bloody Jesus
as we cut it off.

Time was. A cry?
A cry all right.
He hawks and spits,
fevered as by groinfire.

Have us a bottle,
Boy and me
he's earned him a bottle
when he gets home.

II.
Then we beat them, he said,
beat them till our arms was tired
and the big old chains
messy and red.

O Jesus burning on the lily cross

Christ, it was better
than hunting bear
which don't know why
you want him dead.

O night, rawhead and bloodybones night

You kids fetch Paw
some water now so's he
can wash that blood
off him, she said.

O night betrayed by darkness not its own


 

© Robert Hayden
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