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              Son Child
              by John Milton Wesley

              On a road in Mississippi
              A dirt farmer stopped
              Long enough to leave a son child.
              A midwife’s folly
              Ended in a tear. Ten round
              Fat fingers reached for
              A hollow meat bottle
              For lack of something else
              To do with a toothless mouth.
              Out of a pregnancy, into
              A cold world. Free to stretch
              Dared to move and demand love.
              I never saw his face.
              Was told it was round and fat
              And filled with false teeth.
              His fingers were also known to roam.
              He ran away to avoid a steel cage,
              And an avocation of license plates.
              In the years ahead, my brother
              Would do his time.
              “Fats was a big man”
              The neighbors whispered,
              How could he be such a skinny child
              And baldheaded.
              Before the streets were named
              And the sewers were laid,
              And the water rose
              When Catfish washed up on the bridge,
              Before they said Emmett Till
              Whistled at the white woman (they hung him for it.)
              A son child left by a dirt farmer
              Reached for something soft.
              At two he knew the coal bin,
              The blackness kept him warm.
              Snow fell, Ice cream sat quietly
              On the window seal. Hog killing time
              Took his friends away. Only roosters
              Remained calm and mounted
              Feathered backs crowing, then ran off
              To the neighbors’ back yards.
              Pulling scratching, cackling chickens
              Danced over brown eggs.
              Sister Heron’s cow kicked the bucket
              All the neighbors came out to see
              The truck with the pulley roll Bessie
              Onto its back. Mr. Seals had a stroke
              Coming up the street. He had promised me
              Cookies from the store. He fell
              And never broke one.
              Ruleville, a main street town
              North on 49-W, one policeman
              Khaki and fat, spat on Negroes,
              Ate their cooking, beat their men,
              Loved their women, robbed their children,
              Then gave us their old clothes.
              Shot-gun houses and shot-gun weddings
              Married us to our turnrows,
              Stuffed our noses with cotton,
              Broke our backs with hay bales,
              Turned our bright eyes dark
              With corn whiskey.
              Baked us browner than we were,
              Bearing their burdens
              In the heat of the day.
              Saturday night, on “Greasy Street”
              The pool halls filled with
              Cotton picking money, full of Schlitz,
              Southern Comfort, and Black Berry juice.
              Wall to wall colored people,
              Before we were Black,
              Before we built toilets
              On our front porches to save money,
              Running sewer lines to the back of the house.
              Those were the simpler days of
              Commodity lines, of surplus peanut butter,
              Raisins, cheese, milk and flour.
              We moved up in line by trading cans
              Of Corn Beef cured in salt water.
              Yellow meal seeped through holes
              Left in potato sacks. Sack dresses hugged
              Our sister’s shoulders and waistlines.
              We ran for our lives from Klansmen
              And tornados, high winds, and hail storms.
              God caused everything, life and death,
              Beauty and ugliness, love and hate.
              Compress whistles marked the time of day,
              Crickets and church bells, Whippoorwills
              And Fireflies danced and sang.
              Fish frying could be smelled for miles.
              We were a backdoor people.
              We knew our place. It was
              Behind the nearest white man, on
              The back of the bus.
              Through the kitchen, waiting
              Until table cleaning time for
              Cold rolls splatter with coffee grounds,
              And meat left on T-bones for Negroes
              Racing with dogs.
              I once saw a vision of Jesus
              Lying awake waiting
              For the cotton picking truck.
              The voice of the driver made
              The sacred mouth move.
              In the still cold morning hours,
              “Come with me, come with me.”
              And a billy goat waiting to be barbecued
              Answered “Baaaaaaa, Baaaaaa, Baaaaa.”
              Short fat ladies, heads tied, gold teeth glistening,
              Wrapped sweet potatoes, pork chop sandwiches,
              And Tea-cakes in cellophane,
              And climbed on the back of Ford pickups.
              We went early to catch the dew-cotton,
              And sunrise, while Jim Eastland, fat, racist,
              And serving, chewed bitter round cigars
              On Capital Hill.
              We were a beautiful brown hateless people,
              Drowning in a sea of cotton,
              Living on the leftovers of Bollweevils,
              And LadyBugs. A day was worth 300 lbs.,
              And what HoneyDew melons could be found.
              Baby-Ruths lasted all day, and Coca-Colas
              Was a nickel.
              Those were the days this son child knew,
              Burned in his eyes by the sun,
              Chilled in his belly by pump water,
              Etched in his soul by fear.
              Way, way back to where the memory fades,
              And dissolves into misconcepts of freedom,
              And white children who loved us until,
              They were taught to hate us, and
              Keep their Oatmeal cookies to themselves.
              And they became “crackers”
              And we became “niggers,”
              And before they locked our churches
              At midnight, and burned crosses in our front yards.
              Way before Wallace and the door, and Barnett
              And Ole Miss. Before Little Rock,
              King, Kennedy, and Watts, and Selma,
              Way, Way back before they shrunk
              The Baby-Ruth, a dirt farmer stopped
              Long enough to leave a son child,
              Who reached for something soft,
              And is still waiting to touch it.

    John Milton Wesley
    From Across a Blue Bridge


    Read internationally acclaimed writer John Milton Wesley’s speech to the 2007 winter meeting of the National Newspaper Publishers Association ~ NNPA ~ in Phoenix, Arizona. CLICK HERE

    Place of residence: Ellicott City, Maryland

    Birthplace: Ruleville, Mississippi

    Grew up in: Delta of Mississippi. Moved to Jackson on June 12, 1963, the night Medgar Evers was gunned down in his driveway.

    Day job: Partnership development, marketing, media and idea development, consulting

    Education: Tougaloo College, Mississippi. Yale University. Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

    Anthologies: Black Southern Voices. Mississippi Writers, Volume III

    Serial publications: Essence Magazine. Prevention. Pipeland Magazine

    Awards: Reader’s Digest United Negro College Fund First Place Award for Poetry, 1968. Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Outstanding Community Service Award, 1988. National Conference of Blacks in Government

    Current project: Novel and screenplay set in 1957 Mississippi

    Favorite book: Living Well is the Best Revenge by Calvin Tomkins

    Belief: Despite fame, weather will determine the attendance at your funeral.

    To find out more about this award-winning writer, visit


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