For Freckle-Faced Gerald

By Etheridge Knight 1931–1991 Etheridge Knight
Now you take ol Rufus. He beat drums,
was free and funky under the arms,
fucked white girls, jumped off a bridge
(and thought nothing of the sacrilege),
he copped out—and he was over twenty-one.

Take Gerald. Sixteen years hadn’t even done
a good job on his voice. He didn’t even know
how to talk tough, or how to hide the glow
of life before he was thrown in as “pigmeat”
for the buzzards to eat.

Gerald, who had no memory or hope of copper hot lips—
or firm upthrusting thighs
to reinforce his flow,
let tall walls and buzzards change the course
of his river from south to north.

(No safety in numbers, like back on the block:
two’s aplenty. three? definitely not.
four? “you’re all muslims.”
five? “you were planning a race riot.”
plus, Gerald could never quite win
with his precise speech and innocent grin
the trust and fists of the young black cats.)

Gerald, sun-kissed ten thousand times on the nose
and cheeks, didn’t stand a chance,
didn’t even know that the loss of his balls
had been plotted years in advance
by wiser and bigger buzzards than those
who now hover above his track
and at night light upon his back.

“For Freckle-Faced Gerald” from The Essential Etheridge Knight, by Etheridge Knight, © 1986. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: The Essential Etheridge Knight (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986)

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Poet Etheridge Knight 1931–1991

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Crime & Punishment, Social Commentaries

 Etheridge  Knight

Biography

Etheridge Knight began writing poetry while an inmate at the Indiana State Prison and published his first collection, Poems from Prison in 1968. "His work was hailed by black writers and critics as another excellent example of the powerful truth of blackness in art," writes Shirley Lumpkin in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "His work became important in Afro-American poetry and poetics and in the strain of Anglo-American . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Crime & Punishment, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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