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live oak

no markers
only that burly oak reaching
towards the clouds
I imagine
there was a forest once and
wild free animals     nuzzling grazing
taking in the shade of that gargantuan tree
once children maybe played round the trunk
some brave boy tried to climb the windswept
branches / once lovers maybe picnicked
by its base
alone by the highway, though
I know five colored people were hanged
from it/ five colored people all at the same time
not like one of 'em graced the limbs of the oak
and then another
on some other day.
they were all hanged at once.
four men and one pregnant woman
dangled breathless and jerking
neath the ropes til they died
this is a tree everybody
knows about/ five niggahs strung up
and that was that/ no arrests/
no demonstrations just the heavy silence
of fear and hate / no markers but the night mists.

Written by Ntozake Shange (1914-2018)


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