The Canonization of Emmett Till
You led a life of heroic virtue
never renouncing the covenant of your skin
even under torture or water.
In Mississippi, apart from the natural
order, they filled you with gashes and holes—
you wore a Pentateuch of wounds.
Tears across the country
cleft valleys, melted
rocks that were to last
for ages. You will be remembered
as a national saint; thousands visit
your coffin enshrined at America’s mausoleum.
You share a feast day with
St. Moses the Ethiopian
the patron saint of the mother continent.
Demoniacs also tried to invade
his flesh with the enmity of pikes
and the pride of fuller’s clubs.
But you bled more.
Philip C. Kolin is the University Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Southern Mississippi where he edits the Southern Quarterly. Kolin has published six collections of poems, Reading God’s Handwriting: Poems (2012) and In the Custody of Words: Poems (2013) being the most recent. He has also published more than thirty-five scholarly books on Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, African American women playwrights, Edward Albee, and David Rabe.