Walter Crump | 4 Poems

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With support from Stable Ground Boston


Knees are for kneeling;
For fixing a leak beneath the sink,
For climbing stairs or struggling
Up a mountain side,
For knocking a soccer ball in the air
For getting you safely here or over there,
Even for saying a prayer,
You bend a knee
To hear a small child’s whispered query.

Black knees can be for shaking
When stopped by a white cop,
For wanting to assist in running away
But best dare not,
Knowing that’s a sure way
To get yourself shot
From behind,
Your head, your neck, your back.

You kneel hard on your knee
To admonish the endless injustices
Done to black lives.
Knees matter.

In the flat late afternoon light,
A white cop, with his white hand
Casually latent, relaxed
In his white cop’s uniform paints pocket,
Impassively looks down at his handy work.
What did he care while he labored there
For eight minuets
And forty-six seconds,
(no, for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds)
With all of his weight
On the one knee
That was crushing the neck
Of a hand-cuffed black man
Who croaked he couldn’t breathe
And called for his Mama
As his gentle soul fought
For the air
He wasn’t allowed to have.
While his life clocked down to naught?

Knees did not evolve to render a man asunder.

Knees were never meant to detain,
Never meant to assist in torture
Never meant to restrain,
Knees were never meant to slaughter.
Black lives were never ever meant not to matter.


Are the undulating black
Shapes, fixed,
In the branches
Of winter trees,
Seen against the late slant light,
Restless crows,
Or abandoned wrinkled
Plastic bags, slate colored,
Inflated, and shaken
By the breeze?


They waited in the dry drifting snow
shrouded in thick scarfs
and long drab coats,
huddled among shadows, cast

by the remaining trees.

An occasional flair,
like the brief glow
of a ghostly firefly whose season has long past,

flamed a determined face

looming over doomed ashes,
resting on white snow.

As the working day folded into night,
they lingered,

evacuating white smoke and frosted breath
from clotted lungs,

silver incandescent shimmering’s,
lucent in the low slant light
comingled with shadows and swirling snow - effervescent.

They waited, crowding into the narrow patio.

The latecomers overflowed

into the neglected backyard.
Everyone stayed, stooped over,

standing their ground,
stomping their feet,
Shouting their slogans

whispering their pleas;

all facing the sturdy stone structure,
almost all windows dark.
A crumbling edifice,
crusted with legends,

vined with rumors
planted in an iffy past, 
recalled as a place
of warmth,

whose mythical rooms

took you in,
eased your pain,
gave you soup.


There are no more barks.
Gone are the larks.

The street cleaners
Always almost out of gas,
Nearly clogged,
Occasionally chug along,
Just before dawn,
Gobbling up
The neighborhood spew;
Credit cards, forks, notebooks,
Oxidized thumb drives and flat screens
Moldy shirts, socks, and a bra,
A cracked laptop or two,
Some old cooking pots
Lots of plastic whatnots,
Our refuse,
Even a furry carcass.
From time to time.

Those empty houses, some charred,
With broken windows and open doors,
Scattered across the neighborhood,
The homes of those fearing riots.
After too many eccentric seasons,
They fled.
I guess they had their reasons.
Now their clutter collects
And rots.

The atmosphere is searing.
The sidewalks stretch
Then pop. Nothing grows
In those wide cracks.
The asphalt melts and heaves by day
Then coagulates and collapses
In the shade.

Our car squeaks,
It belches as it quakes,
Low on air and oil,
(Is there any oil anymore?)
We still have half a tank,
But we still worry
It won’t get us somewhere.
So it squats, chiefly,
In the vacant lot.

We hear there
Are deluges,
Misplaced monsoons
Off to the north,
But not here,
Here it’s parched.

Sometimes, beneath the clouds.
We see, still, silhouettes
Of birds soaring,
North then south, then east then west,
Sometimes the clouds are beautiful,
Sometimes they are mauve then morph
To orange and green before they pale.

There is not much left
To pollinate, to fertilize.
Most bees are carcasses now,
Collected on a shelf
Labeled, neglected;
Legends of the past.
What flowers there are,
Are brittle and drab,
And the grey grasses
Growing among thorns and barbs
Prick like nails.

The distance is ocher and haze.

Riding the fumes of the air,
Contagions are bountiful,
The noxious toxic vapors
Come and curl, then settle
Among the houses on the block,
Inoculations fail.
Our ailments escalate.
Some of us must be extinct,
Particulates strive
To cohabit all our vital parts.
Our lungs are starved.
Our masks, engaged,
Endeavor to filter
What air that’s there,
To part what’s precious
From what’s not.

We’ve seen the sun can melt.

The kids now
Play in long sleeves
Beneath black tarps.
They cough a lot
While we wipe away their snot.

We forget the things
We never did.
We forgot the things
We meant to do.

We used to ruminate,
Used to contribute to this and that…
Sitting around,
Over glasses of wine
And gourmet whatnots
Raging against the plastic
In the bellies of the whales.
But we really didn’t do a lot.
So now we seldom talk.
We thought we had more time,
We thought we had enough time,
It's dangerous now, to take a walk.