Will Inman

(For Emmett Louis Till

The dead child's face still watches us who saw
Its mutilation...we dare not forget,
For, deeper than his wounds, he holds a raw
Mirror to our own negligence. Regret
Is an empty word at a child's new grave...
Revenge, the vain trumpet of wasted hours..
Anger, tears, frustration — those can save
Others .. but for Till are his last flowers...

From now on in Mississippi, in the South,
Let our white faces wear the cardinal stain
Of guilt along the edges of our mouth:
Asked of our brothers, we bare teeth of Cain!

So let it be .. until no human face
Wear anguish for its creed .. nor for its race.

Copyright © Will Inman, September 27, 1955, all rights reserverd.

[Will Inman, a white southerner living in Winston-Salem, NC at the time later wrote:

[This poem] was written soon after I saw a photo of his ravaged body in Jet [magazine] back then. I no longer believe guilt helps anything much, but I was so shaken, so enraged, at that time, I wanted to lash out at the crazy people who hurt him. I wish I thought it had begun to stop happening by now. I published it the following month in a student mimeo newsletter put out by my friend, Lavone Jones. I used the name 'John Paine' in order not to get Lavone branded with my red label.]

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