Describe Turner to MLK

By Tod Marshall Tod Marshall


The weight of my son
                             at the emergency room
                      for an eye injury, sack of flour, sack of salt,
                                            dusty bag of bones
                                                                        after all those tears.
                            Why does Turner
                                 come to mind,
                                                        those shackled ankles,
                            those drowning slaves?

And horizons.
                                Each measure, each cleaving
of flesh to soil, breath to sentence, body
                                             toward earth. The shepherd
                                                watches his flock
                                                         cross the stream;
                                             nymphs bathe and flirt
                                 and sun themselves on rocks. Water
                                                              against ankles, pebbles
                                                                             beneath feet.

An old woman sits next to us,
                                           and every time she shifts
                            in her seat,
                                                 I can hear her bones click.
                            her faulty architecture
                                         like an old radiator,
                                                       cooling engine.
The burden
                                of seeing, explosive sunlight,
               the swirling painted water
                                     pouring over Turner’s slaves.
                                                                           My son
                                                           sleeps. Have you ever walked
                                                                                 into the sticky heat
                        of a Memphis night
                                       and asked for gunshots
                                                     to stop for just one hot hour?
              O heap of body, heap of bones,
                                                         heap of dreams, heap of moans.

A story with a happy ending
               and no answers,
                           slight corneal scratch
                    healed with anti-bacterial rinse,
         the eyeball’s protective pocket
                           cupping the universe
              like a calm inlet
                                    offering a foundering ship
                                           protection from rough seas. You tell me:
What washes blood from a balcony?
I’m listening. I’m saying please.
              The sun rises quickly.
              And so do sea monsters.

Tod Marshall, "Describe Turner to MLK" from The Tangled Line. Copyright © 2009 by Tod Marshall.  Reprinted by permission of Canarium Books.

Source: The Tangled Line (Canarium Books, 2009)

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Poet Tod Marshall

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Living, Parenthood, Arts & Sciences, Painting & Sculpture, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

Poetic Terms Ekphrasis

 Tod  Marshall


Tod Marshall grew up in Kansas. His books of poetry include Bugle (Canarium Press, 2014), The Tangled Line (Canarium Press, 2009), and Dare Say (University of Georgia Press, 2002). He has also published a collection of his interviews with contemporary poets, Range of the Possible (Eastern Washington University Press, 2002) and an attendant anthology of work by the interviewed poets, Range of Voices (EWU Press, 2005). He lives in . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Parenthood, Arts & Sciences, Painting & Sculpture, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Ekphrasis

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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