“What If Martin Luther King Could Do It”


by Len Lawson



I know it’s unfathomable to see
after the way we’ve anointed him
patron saint of peace
prophet of nonviolence
priest of martyrs sitting
at the right hand of Jesus
and Paul at the left hand
like Moses and Elijah
at the Transfiguration.
I know it’s inside of us to even
think it, but we can’t. The pain
was too blinding—ubiquitous rays of
black sun. We breathed in the pseudo-
oxygen of death on that fateful day
on that fateful balcony in that hateful
state. Now can we see it? Can we even
train our periphery to behold the splendor
of it? Yes, push past the shock and awe of
the gall we were made to drink, past the
conspiracy of the FBI and the Mafia,
past year after year of mythologizing him
into thin air—was he even really a man,
or alive, or an actual soul? Yes—see that
same hand waving on stage at the multitude
facing the Washington Monument—yes see
that magnetic smile and hear that hypnotic
dusky voice—yes! Can you see it? On the
balcony, gunfire reaching that upraised hand.
Bullets ricocheting in protest back to their
master. What if he could do it? Ten thousand
angels answering his signal. A blinding light
around his countenance. Jesse, Hosea, and
Ralph falling to their knees, trembling with
fear. Let this blind our eyes instead of the
pain from loss. Now, what do you see?
…what white bullets through black flesh
leave behind every time on the other side





Len Lawson

Len Lawson is author of Chime (Get Fresh, 2019) and the chapbook Before the Night Wakes You (Finishing Line, 2017). He is co-editor of Hand in Hand: Poets Respond to Race (Muddy Ford, 2017). A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Len has received fellowships from Callaloo, Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and others. His poetry appears in CallalooAfrican American ReviewNinth Letter, Verse Daily, Mississippi Review, and elsewhere. Len is also a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature and Criticism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, earning the 2020 IUP Outstanding Doctoral Student Award.

Facebook: Len Lawson

Twitter @lenvillelaws 

Instagram @lenville_laws


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