“That Summer” by Herbert Woodward Martin

Herbert Woodward Martin


When I was six and had no knowledge about the intricate working of the world, I wandered carelessly into a lynching, because I saw many people moving toward the center of town. What could have been so popular, that it commanded their noisy attention? Their chaotic voices seemed to call me into the center of their being and before I knew it, there I was standing before this singed body, hanging mid-air like a burned strip of bacon. What could he have done to so outrage the populace, who were guilty of smiling at me daily as I went out accomplishing nothing? When the last participant had gone, a group of elderly black women gathered together and determined he had been caught peeping in the window of a bedroom, and what he had seen meant death. They gathered us around this severe example, so that we would remember this day, and this event. The oldest of all the women, all withered and walking with a cane they say she had taken from a tree far away in the forest of her memory, spoke carefully of what the women must do. She was a thin wisp of skin and bones and spoke with the voice of acquired wisdom. She directed each woman there to put black pepper into the shoes of each boy in the neighborhood, so that no matter what they had done, whenever hunting dogs came after one of them, they would sneeze themselves off the scented tracks and not a single boy would lose their life that summer or any summer after that.

from Rattle #57, Fall 2017

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Herbert Woodward Martin: “In three and a half decades of teaching, I have tried to impart the knowledge of how to write a poem to my students which I received from my teachers, the old guys who were my masters. They had taught me and endorsed in my visions. It was wisdom so potent that I tried to pass the tasty morsels on to them. I think a few of them took what I said to heart and believed.” (web)

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