Poem of the Month – October 2023


Tamara J. Madison

Till Poem

               for Mamie Till

We have buried you so many times,
sifted through files and notes,
slipped our fingers through cracks and crevices
to find some semblance of sense, justice, why-
praying it soothe us,
lay you finally to rest.
Still our palms and hearts echo
canyons barren.

Instead of sorting
puzzle pieces of your murder,
I choose to crown you, Mamie’s baby, with a life poem.
Emmett, you amber-eyed, butterscotch,
Chi-slick, Black man-child with the tripping tongue,
I choose to write that bounce back
into your Midwest swagger
showing off before them country bumpkin boys.
I am writing you sliding into home base,
dusty Mississippi, Money painting your back side
bringing a cheering crowd to its feet!

Emmett, I am writing you:
a 14-year-old-grin of innocence,
wearing manish mischief for cologne,
lip smacking, trembling shudder
after the bubble gum first kiss
from a little brown/Black girl
where it is safe and sweetness
steals the blues from Mississippi air.
I am writing that crack in your voice
as hair sprouts on that landscape,
your body, your beautiful brown/Black
body skittering across Chicago
concrete beneath your heels
and Mississippi grass whistling
from the brush of your feet.

I am writing you running, Emmett,
back to the sun of Mamie’s face
shining with pride and promise,
me writing/ you running
until you slam into her body, warm dough,
your face buried in the rise of her bosom,
your brown/Black face recording the song of heart
that followed you and you alone
because you are her only.

I am writing your first catch in that mitt,
recording your first swish at the hoop,
your first flitting fish on a hook,
your first words,
first teetering steps,
first fall, first crawl,
Lord, your first tooth and chew.

Emmett, I am writing,
you are crowning—
your first cry,
your first open eyes
yet womb-wet bleeding Light

fearless, Emmett.



Originally published in MER 20, “Mother Figures”


Poet, writer, Tamara J. Madison is the author of Threed, This Road Not Damascus; Kentucky Curdled, and Sistuh’s Sermon on the Mount (poetry), and Collard County (fiction). She is the creator and host of “BREAKDOWN: The Poet & The Poems,” a YouTube poetry conversation series that features poets and their poetry as inspiration for everyday life. She is a fellow of Anaphora Arts Writing Residency with an MFA from New England College. Visit www.tamarajmadison.com.


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