The Lovesong of Emmett Till By Anthony Walton

Share via

More than likely she was Irish

or Italian, a sweet child who knew him

only as a shy clown.

Colleen, Jenny or Marie, she

probably didn’t even know

he had her picture,

that he had traded her cousin

for baseball cards or a pocketknife,

that her routine visage

sat smoldering in his wallet

beyond any price.

He carried his love

like a burden, and devotion

always has to tell.

Hell, he was just flirting

with that lady in the store,

he already had his white

woman back up in Chicago.

He wasn’t greedy, just showing

off, showing the rustics

how it was done. He had an eye,

all right, and he was free

with it, he knew they loved it.

Hey baby, was all he said,

and he meant it as a compliment,

when he said it in Chicago

the white girls laughed.

So when they came to get

him, he thought it was

a joke, he proclaimed himself guilty

of love, he showed them

the picture and paid the price of

not innocence, but affection, affection

for a little black-haired, blue-eyed

girl who must by now be an older

woman in Chicago, a woman

who will never know

she was to die for, that he died

refusing to take back her name,

his right to claim he loved her.

From “The Vintage Book of African American Poetry,” edited by Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton (Vintage Books: 398 pp., $14)