Friday, June 27, 2008


I love poetry, though I rarely read it, seldom write it, and hardly understand it.

More accurately, I've always wanted to want to enjoy poetry.

A few things have converged recently to stir this in me.

1. Cameron has been reading a lot, and he loves to read Mother Goose nursery rhymes. For Cameron, these rhymes seem to be unlocking a door that is opening the world of literature to him.

2. I've been working with our Anthem song writing team to write music. Song writing is poetry- and there's a big difference between tasty and trite.

3. I spent the day with a good friend who shared one of his poems with me. It's actually one of our church's founding pastors, Harold Nesbitt (now working in Kazakstan)...

You Can't Trust A Nigger With A Gun

The graves we dug in the pourin' rain
With enemy fire still a comin' down.
The mud so deep, feared I might be drowned
And laid 'side them who was done with pain.

And the thunder rolled,
And a baby cried,
And a soldier cried,
But I's feelin' bold.

Said: 'Yanks I'll shoot jus' cause they's down here.'
'Cept muskets waren't meant for colored men
Who's fit to dig but not to dig in-
To save our homes- all that we hold dear.

And the thunder rolled,
And a baby cried,
And a soldier cried,
But I's feelin' bold.

A gun I grabs from the Union dead;
'Twas loaded and cocked and good to fire.
I's aimed and fixin' to vent my ire
When bullets exploded in my head.

And the voice of a Reb who knew me said,
'You can't trust a nigger with a gun;
'For sure, he'll shoot his Massah and run.'

And the thunder rolled,
And a baby cried,
And a soldier cried,
And so's I died.

This is the progression- Your first thought might be something like mine, "What does this poem mean?"You re-read it and realize, "It obviously takes place during the civil war. A slave wants to help his master fight against the North. So he picks up the gun of a fallen Union soldier and begins to fight alongside the Confederate army. He was just joining the war when he was shot by a Confederate soldier who told him he wasn't fit to carry a gun."

Someone dies at the hand of a fellow countryman while fighting for the same cause. All because of skin color. You can feel the dissonance in the refrain, "And the thunder rolled..." In other words- it's not how the world should be. It's not right.

My mind fast forwards to modern America. I wonder if some people might not vote for Obama because of his skin color or middle name. An African American seeking to join the fight for his country- and is shot.

It's not a political poem. The author (or me) is not saying you should vote for Obama. But it raises these questions and makes me think.

The poem took me to another place, then helped me reflect on life. That's good poetry.


Anonymous said...

i wonder if someone would vote for obama because of his skin color

Metropuritan Mark said...

Great point.

It was funny to me the MANY college students who couldn't decide whether they were going to vote for for Ron Paul or Obama. Had they thought about their positions, or were they voting based on the novelty of their image? Both were rebels in a different way- one as a libertarian and the other as potentially the first black president. But how could you logically go from Paul to Obama based on their views alone? Our late teens/early twenties is such an enlightened time of our lives...

Anonymous said...

If people aren't thoughtful then, we shouldn't expect they will get any more thoughtful automatically with age, unfortunately