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Calling All Fathers


From the Sheraton Convention Hotel 
we made our way down King Drive
passing Beale Street as if it could talk 
taking in the sights and sounds of Memphis 
with its BB King Restaurant and Blues blaring 
into the cobblestone streets 
and Elvis impersonators hawking souvenirs while 
shaking their hips and singing 
about a hunk of burning love 

we saw
yet another barbecue restaurant 
Rounding the corner and getting out of the car in front of 
old fashioned sign
just as it had hung that April 4th day fifty years ago 
an old woman sat under a
make shift shelter 
launching a tirade of protest remarks that included 
“over 20 million dollars spent on renovating a hotel into a museum 
for a man who tried to feed the hungry” 
nevertheless we pressed on 
having already paid our discounted ticket price 
of ten dollars


Once inside we made our way into the atrium where
the deeply accented southern guide bid us a Happy Valentine’s Day
while telling us to be quiet until she was finished 
We walked a path leading from the sun-Son filled coast of West Africa
to slave pens at Goree Island 
to slave ships crossing the Atlantic 
to auction blocks in 

some of us kept looking for God 

We traveled to 
tobacco plantations in Virginia 
cotton plantations in Mississippi 
sugar cane plantations in Louisiana  
stepping through over 240 years in about ten minutes 

 and saw Divine grace
We eased our way through ten years of Reconstruction
liquid thing pouring itself 
on 4 million of our ancestors
defying every odd against 
the hatred of a defeated Confederacy
turned into a maniacal monster and 
a lack of formal education 
along with no forty acres or mule 
but on sheer human grit and divine grace
made of themselves the best this soil has produced 

Traveling through a great migration of the ancestors 
to a more promising land 
we saw Chicago and The Defender 
New York and Abyssinian Church
Detroit and the Assembly Line
the NAACP and CORE
and then


young and powerful 
filled with words and visions 
born into the yesterday of segregation 
but with tomorrow’s seeds of integration 
falling from his pockets 
we listened not just to the ardent power of his precise oratory
but to desperation in the pitch of his voice 
calling for the urgency of now 

as he had done for most of his
and then slowly and methodically
put on lotion  
oiled his hair 
brushed his teeth 
went to the bathroom where he showered and shaved 
he got out of bed
one last time
where Martin rose 
that just ahead was the hotel room
and we stood in it 
A line formed then
thirty nine years
he dressed
in a pressed white shirt and dapper tie
put on his pants and suit coat 
stepping outside into the Memphis sun
and placing a hand on the balcony  
of the Lorraine Hotel’s second floor 
he shouted to someone his last earthly words 

crushed his throat
and a bullet from hundreds of yards away 
when the crack of a rifle broke through the atmosphere
he was preparing to go to dinner 
“sing Precious Lord tonight”
every thing in its path
and crumpling him
in the wink of an eye
just like that 
he was gone 

and we
have not recovered 

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