An occasional poem for the day: “Martin Luther King Day, 2017”

Though I don’t usually write occasional poems, with the Inauguration and (supposedly) a new era just ahead of us, I wanted to write one which references the past, and celebrates the day.  If you don’t agree with me about anything I say, then that is your right, too.  It’s not a perfect poem by a long shot, but I believe it expresses the thoughts in my mind today accurately, and sometimes that’s the most one can hope for.  Have a good day.

Martin Luther King Day, 2017

"You know he cheated on his wife,"
My neighbor says.
"Had affairs, and everything."
This, I think, is meant to indicate
That his public faith with all of us
Wasn't perfect either,
Though even his wife
Revered his public stance.
And what man, anyway,
Or maybe even what woman--
Given an equal chance to do wrong--
Would respect the office
And the private world
As if they were the same?
Said John and Oko Lennon,
"Woman is the nigger of the world,"
And said La Rochefoucauld,
"It pertains to great men to have great faults."
Is it all the outward dance of men
Determined only to do one good at a time,
To have a whipping boy in the shadows
In the form of a woman?
Of is it just that The Public itself
Cannot grasp how a person,
Man or woman,
Needs to fight, with some room reserved
For error, a margin in which to be forgiven?
Now we are at the beginning of what pretends,
At least,
To be a new beginning,
Full of hope for those who've felt neglected
While civil rights made its great footsteps forward.
But why isn't it full of hope
For everyone at the same time,
As civil rights has always purported to be?
And the figurehead at the top:
A man full of error,
Which if error is meant to reassure us
Should surely do us proud.
His spite of John Lewis,
His rejection of memorials for King,
How can these be worked in with
"Of the people, by the people, for the people"?
Who're people?
I am people, you are people, he and she are people.
And we one and all
Must learn to contain
Our furies at each other
Lest the furies that our leaders
Aim at each other--
Playing on the public stage as if they were
Coriolanus, Caesar, or Henry V,
Only with words far less impressive--
Lest their Furies become those of the Greeks,
And shred us all to pieces,
Public and private.
The new figurehead has promised
To put us in the driver's seat,
Though little did we think
That it meant we have to drive the venerable jalopy
Without capsizing it, since he has abdicated
Acting responsibly, drinking in the back seat
And fondling those public figures who would always
Be fondled, whoever has the lead role.
Be brave! my fellows,
And cast doubt from your minds,
For though it is not now our kingship,
We have had a king fight nobly and well,
We have had a model of a man
Whereby to set the measure of all others.
Look forward, hope!  For what we see
With disbelieving, jaded eyes
Is not always the true path
Of our fates.  It is our struggle now
As it was King's, and we for this
Remember him this day.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 1/16/17

Finis, for today anyway.

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2 Comments

Filed under Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

2 responses to “An occasional poem for the day: “Martin Luther King Day, 2017”

  1. A very striking poem, there are always people who miss the point and would rather focus on King’s fallibility rather than the obvious greatness with which he is rightly considered.

    This is a wonderful tribute and although still a long way to go in the fight, it should be the fight of all of us.

    • Thanks for the praise; when I sent this poem to my brother, he wrote a very quick and perceptive two-line poem in reply. I wish I could share it with you, but it basically condensed a lot of what I’m saying here into a very short span. We are constantly writing each other things, mine longer, his shorter, and it’s a (rather fun) battle of wits sometimes, but this time we were both very seriously inclined, so it was his poem which was really striking. But he’s a bit shy.

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