Fear’s End

Shortly after midnight, Martin’s sleep was
broken. Lifting the receiver, bone-tired:
Listen, nigger.*

Alone, though his wife
slept beside him, fear drove him
from their bed. The night was filled
with unbearable silence.

Struggling, pacing nervously,
moving from hall to kitchen,

putting the kettle on the stove
by instinct, walking back and forth,
softly, so as not to wake
the baby, trying to sort
muddled thoughts, to drive away spasms
of godless panic.

Hot coffee cools quickly.

He sat alone at that kitchen table,
eyes downcast, hands clasped.

Grace still amazes.

* The well documented “kitchen table incident” occurred during the night following Friday January 27, 1955—near the on-set of the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott—when Martin Luther King Jr. received a threatening phone call from a white man, who called him a “nigger” and warned him that he had better leave Montgomery soon, if he wanted to do so alive.

**

Martyred At the Lorraine

I can see Martin.
On that balcony.

Hosea. Jesse. Martin. Ralph.

But you will say,
my mind is playing tricks.

That was the night before,
right? Before
he gave that speech
to those garbage men,

going to Mason’s Chapel in pouring rain,
tired as he was.

Sure he would march.
But who would guess,
his final speech

would come in Memphis?

The baritone softly hums “Precious Lord,”
and he smiles.

Wrong again.
That was the day

it happened.

I can see Martin.
At that Negro motel.

He throws out his chest,
waves his hand as he speaks,

guffaws
into the nip of an April twilight,

perhaps picturing his “four little children”:

a robust man, he tells
of what he sees atop the mountain—

in the land beyond,

in the view.

“Oh! . . . ”

The bullet pierced its intended,
and Ralph gently cradled
Martin’s dying head. Who, now,
will choose redemption,

suffering—to implement the dream?

I see Martin carried.
From the Lorraine.

A widening pool of still-warm blood
turns brown.

Both poems from my master’s thesis, “Making All Things New: The Redemptive Value of Unmerited Suffering in the Life and Works of Martin Luther King Jr.” (MALS, Wake Forest University, 2000). Also published in “Gathering the Broken Pieces,” Kanona, NY: Foothills Publishing, 2004.