READING HAYDEN’S FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO THE DEALERS
By George Higgins
Like attaching safety pins on baby diapers
I tie a Windsor knot over the alleged drug dealer’s shoulder.
The brightly colored Salvation Army ties
I bought in bulk before my lecture
flutter like big box kites at Cesar Chavez Park
around their muscled necks.
Twelve recently arrested alleged street dealers, eighteen to twenty-one
sit around the conference table at Probation Hall,
executives in their orange molded plastic chairs.
I try to mentor them by measuring their necks
and arms; I teach them how to iron shirts.
My auntie showed me how says one.
She flicks the water from a bowl like that he demonstrates.
I use one of them clip-ons says another boldly.
The lady probation officer interrupts
Uh-huh, you still need to learn how to tie a tie.
When I recite the Hayden poem they won’t look up.
When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues' rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the livesfleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.