Marilyn Nelson


A Wreath for Emmett Till.jpg

Excerpt From A Wreath for Emmett Till


Emmett Till's name still catches in my throat,

like syllables waylaid in a stutterer's mouth.

A fourteen-year-old stutterer, in the South

to visit relatives and to be taught

the family's ways. His mother had finally bought

that White Sox cap; she'd made him swear an oath

to be careful around white folks. She'd told him the truth

of many a Mississippi anecdote:

Some white folks have blind souls. In his suitcase

she'd packed dungarees, T-shirts, underwear,

and comic books. She'd given him a note

for the conductor, waved to his chubby face,

wondered if he'd remember to brush his hair.

Her only child. A body left to bloat.


© from A Wreath for Emmett Till