Dying By the Rood © by Bethany White

“I shoved him in a closet set
Against the wall. This would but let
Him breathe two minutes more, or three,
Before they dragged him out to be
Queer fruit upon some outraged tree”
from Countee Cullen’s “The Black Christ”

Dying By the Rood

I can only wonder what it was like
a man, a tree, and history.
After fear comes a determined resignation.
Just ask anyone who has given birth,

said goodbye to a lover too soon,
finally accepted the creep of old age,
or seen life flash before them
in a heartstopping

I can only imagine that final stretch
pale palm raised to ask for help,
praying that God would call out one
among these white faces
to raise his voice and say
Naw boys, y’all go on home now,
we’re not going to do this tonight.
And you would accept the apology,
allow the rope to slip over your head
and drop from your wrists,
head home for supper like nothing had
ever happened, wiping the blood from
your shattered face with a grateful sleeve.

Instead, the slow creep of grim acceptance
that your name was not Isaac
and there would be no ram
in the bush to make
this executioner’s noose pass over you.

With no voice left, your mind alone screams
that you’d never even looked
at that white woman.
Would never
touch another woman period
if you could only walk away.

Still, something compels you to look up.
Maybe if your eyes could only reach heaven
that man after the order of Melchizedek
would hear your prayer
and release this last breath stuck
in your lungs, keep your bound knuckles
from scraping this tree.

Bethany WhiteArtress Bethany White is a poet. She earned a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, an M.A. in Creative Writing from New York University, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Kentucky. Her poetry has appeared in Harvard Review, Appalachian Journal, Black Renaissance Noire, and MELUS as well as other anthologies and literary journals.

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