Yusef Komunyakaa

Knights of the White Camellia & Deacons of Defense

They were in a big circle
Beside Mitch Creek, as it murmured
Like a murderer tossing in his sleep
Between a wife & daughter, demure
As Sartre's Respectable Prostitute
On a feathered bed in July.
The sacrament. A gallon
Jug of bootleg passed from hand
To hand. An orgy of nightbirds
Screeched under the guillotined
Moon that hung like a target
Reflected against each robe.
Bibles, icons, & old lies. Names
Dead in their mouths like broken
Treaties. A spired & cupolaed
Dominion for bloodhounds. Apparitions
Tied to the Lily-cross & Curse.

Next day, in the hard light,
In a show of force,
Dark roses outbloomed Camellias, a radiance
Not borrowed from the gleam
Of gun barrels. Sons
& daughters of sharecroppers
Who made sawmills
& cotton fields hum for generations,
Encircled the slow-footed
Marchers like an ebony shield.
Bullhorns blared, German
Shepherds whined on choke chains,
& swaggering clubs throttled spring.
Resistance startled crepe myrtle
& magnolia, while a clandestine
Perfume diluted the tear gas.

"Knights of the White Camellia & Deacons of Defense" by Yusef Komunyakaa from Pleasure Dome (Wesleyan University Press, 2001). © 2001 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

[For background to this poem, see Confronting the Klan in Bogalusa With Nonviolence & Self-Defense.]

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