Anthony Walton (1960-
) was born in Aurora, Illinois, and is a graduate of both Notre Dame and
Brown Universities. He is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir,
Mississippi: An American Journey, and co-author with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
of Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WW II’s
Forgotten Heroes. He is also co-editor, with Michael S. Harper, of The
Vintage Book of African American Poetry. Currently, he is visiting professor
of English at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.
The poem below was
included in his Mississippi memoir, and was reprinted in Christopher Metress,
The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative (Charlottesville:
University of Virginia Press, 2002), 340. In this poem, Walton focuses
on the picture of the white girl that Emmett Till was carrying in his
wallet and showed to his cousins that fateful day in Money, Mississippi.
As Metress explains, “Walton emphasizes Till’s innocence and
reimagines the boy’s meeting with Carolyn Bryant in those terms”
The Lovesong of Emmett
More than likely she
or Italian, a sweet child who knew him
only as a shy clown.
Colleen, Jenny or Marie, she
probably didn’t even know
he had her picture,
that he had traded her cousin
for baseball cards or a pocketknife,
that her routine visage
sat smoldering in his wallet
beyond any price.
He carried his love
like a burden, and devotion
always has to tell.
Hell, he was just flirting
with that lady in the store,
he already had his white
woman back up in Chicago.
He wasn’t greedy, just showing
off, showing the rustics
how it was done. He had an eye,
all right, and he was free
with it, he knew they loved it.
Hey baby, was all he said,
and he meant it as a compliment,
when he said it in Chicago
the white girls laughed.
So when they came to get
him, he thought it was
a joke, he proclaimed himself guilty
of love, he showed them
the picture and paid the price of
not innocence, but affection, affection
for a little black-haired, blue-eyed
girl who must by now be an older
woman in Chicago, a woman
who will never know
she was to die for, that he died
refusing to take back her name,
his right to claim he loved her.