Sunday, August 24, 2008

Poetry: A Daguerreotype of "Renty," a Congo Slave

A March 2006 New York Times article reported the following facts*:

  • 72 percent = the share of young black men without jobs in 2004
  • 50 percent = the share of black men in their 20's who were jobless in 2004, even when high school graduates were included
  • 21 percent = the share of black men in their 20's, who did not attend college and who were incarcerated in 2004

by George Higgins

He owns the leaf in his hand, his owner’s scorn.
The chemicals lop, etch, emulsify;
his gray hair radiates, a nest of thorns.
He stares back brutally, bleared, peppercorn,
some master’s crop, crushed in the glare. His eyes
are silvery, oiled, almost metallic, toilworn.
Today the cell mates clot below, most black.
In bright smocks, yellow and orange, they climb
the steps. How many behind the glass this week?
I pick a folder up from the ordered stack,
a criminal worn thin from serving time.
This one leans forward and begins to speak.

*“Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn” by Erik Eckholm, 3/20/06,

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