Poems by Fatima Cortez-Todd

TO REST SAFE AND BE FED

After paying my $5 a week room rent
I bought an album for $3.57 from my CORE pay
And Oretha listened to Bob Dylan for the first time with me
After she got past the voice, she said, "That boy got something to say."
And Haley introduced us to "sacrosanct"
We were then compelled to change those things
We did find and demolish the mouse nest.
Doc and Mrs. Mitchell lived in the RV in their driveway for a minute
Rudy ran for Mayor
And we remembered

And Freddie was a good dancer and faced death
When he walked those sharecropper roads with us.
And the righteous Rev. Moore always met us with a smile.
We knew Farmer was driven out of town to safety in a coffin
And we did not skip a beat.

And I smile remembering being part of Louisiana families
Who opened my intellectual curiosity, my spirit, and FOOD.
Wow I cooked my first rabbit at Oretha's.
Madear was a chef at Dookey Chase's
Even though they called her the cook and had
Colored and white dining rooms.
That's all right.
Around the corner
She hid Freedom Riders in her back house
So they could rest and be fed.

I was sitting on the steps of the corner store
That was closed early that day
When I faced down a double-barreled shotgun
In the hands of a white boy as young as me
In a light green Ford pick-up truck.
And we just stared at each other and
He drove on.
And my ride picked me up
And I breathed again.

And in Jonesboro we remembered
Annie P and her whole family
And Elmo's Freedom House
Where we had a real shower.
And Vasti's BBQ colored and white dining rooms
And Chilly Willy
And the Deacons who stood up to the KKK
And Skip who went to the mill and came to
The Freedom House with his sawed off shotgun
It was he who watched
So we could rest and be fed.

And we were all so sure then
That we could make a difference
And make a world with one dining room
And one place to rest and be fed.

Copyright © Fatima Cortez-Todd, 2010, all rights reserverd.

["Oretha" refers to Oretha Castle and "Rudy" refers to Rudy Lombard both of whom were leaders of New Orleans CORE. "Rev. Moore" refers to CORE organizer Ronnie Moore. "Haley" refers to CORE regional director Richard Haley. "Farmer" refers to national CORE leader James Farmer and the time he was smuggled out of Plaqumines, Louisiana in a hearse to escape a manhunt out to lynch him. "Chilly Willy" refers to Ernest Thomas and "Elmo" to Elmo Jacobs both of whom were founders of the Deacons for Defense and Justice. "Skip" refers to Lee Gilbert, a member of the Deacons.]


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