September 15, 1963: A Poem

Dear Readers:

I wrote the following poem over ten years ago, after listening to John Coltrane’s “Alabama,“ a song he wrote in response to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, an event which resulted in the deaths of four little girls.

At that time, I was living in Talladega, Alabama, only about fifty miles away; that ground carried spilled blood as well.  As I listened to Coltrane’s song, I was greatly moved, even though there were no words. I was struck by the wisdom of the ancestors, how they have prepared messages for us before we were born. Today, I just wanted to share the poem I wrote with you, written in a time when I did not understand those messages; today, I do.

Let us remember the names of those children, who are now our ancestors:


Addie Mae Collins

Denise McNair

Carole Robertson

Cynthia Wesley







The Book of Alabama: Chapter Coltrane

            for Michael S. Harper


I’ve been plagued by spirits     visitations

of death     fire feeding off sheeted

breath     Sometimes I see the bones

of God’s back turned to me


(Hands stroke the lynch knot

and bear the cup I beg to pass

         There is no good news        I was born

as wood       a thrown match cutting

open the five wounds       On this ground

I am a minor prophet)


And sometimes I see the loins of God giving

birth to Her son       surely there is

prayer in my horn’s throat      wine

in redemption       I stand on limbo’s

chasm       play       Each note shouts gospel


(Things ain’t always gone be

this way       This is how to get over

       Follow the hoot owl witness

There might be consolation on this trail

grace at the tree’s root       I’m bound for the other

side of water       My feet ain’t meant to dangle)


Lord       I know I’ve been changed

The only sound is morning       I call You

by the thousand names You have

whispered to me in song

       Speak Your red clay promise

that blood cries out       rises from ash

that You will not rest on the seventh day



[from Outlandish Blues by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, © 2003.]



2 thoughts on “September 15, 1963: A Poem

  1. There is an excellent Spike Lee documentary called “4 Little Girls” that is filled with many heart wrenching scenes and interviews of the parents, family and friends.

    In one scene the father of one of the murdered girls shows a perfect photo of his happy daughter hugging a white doll.

    The beautiful innocence of childhood contrasted alongside the hate and violence of racist adults is overwhelming. Viewing a happy photo from a grieving parent made me sad and sick to my stomach at the absurdity of the hate and violence in this world.

    It would be too dismissive of a greater problem to say that it was just one man or just four men who were sociopathic killers. U.S. society allows those sick and twisted haters to go about their daily lives unchecked.

    PS – I think the movie is on HBO until the end of this month and I think it’s on NetFlix in their regular inventory. I saw it through HBO Go which is now available through Apple TV if you have an HBO subscription.

    • Hey there:

      Thank you so much for reading, and for the suggestion. (Documentaries are my favorite!) I’ve seen Four Little Girls twice; it’s incredibly powerful and moving. I spent several years in Alabama, and that tragedy is mentioned in African American communities on a regular basis.

      Thank you again.

      Take care,

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