|Glass rosette from 16th Street Baptist Church, Alabama|
(“We Have Seen,” from the poem by Natasha Tretheway)
I put down my fork, pancakes all eaten,
at Denny’s that early September morning.
A few moments to gaze at Smithsonian Magazine,
brought along to fill my time
waiting for breakfast to arrive.
“We Have Seen,” says her poem, Natasha Tretheway,
printed white upon black on the pages
beside the twisted glass rosette preserved from 1963.
Her poem: the debris, the shattered wrecks,
the firetruck moving away;
the martyred girls, four girls!
Babies, waiting for Sunday school to begin.
Their faces and Jesus’, mangled beyond recognition.
How Frederick Douglas pushed himself into the public eye,
knowing that photography, in 1873, must show us the truth,
ready or not.
I gaze across my plate at Denny’s,
reaching for my coffee,
eyes filling with tears.
Those four little girls...
I gaze around and wonder: will I weep right here?
Is it at last the time
to let the tears brim over?
September 6, 2016
The photos in September's Smithsonian Magazine are of objects on display at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. I was moved to tears by the photo above of one of the only pieces of stained glass left after the bombing of 16th Street Baptist, a gathering place of the Civil Rights Movement, in 1963. This is the church where four little girls were killed as they waited for Sunday school to begin.
|Frederic Douglas ambrotype, 1855-1865|
|Shawl given to Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria in 1897|