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I Saw Emmett Till This Week at the Grocery Store


Over the last few months, I’ve been reading a lot of young, black poets. My entry point was Hanif Abdurraqib’s book of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us — a collection of music criticism that is one of my favorite books in the last five years. From there I spun outward into Abdurraqib’s poetry collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth MuchThen on to Clint Smith’s Counting Descent and Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead.

Eve Ewing is part of this cohort. (All of them know each other and, by what I glean from social media, are friends.) Her prose/poetry/art collection Electric Arches is stunning. The introductory note gives a sense of her purpose and the beauty and force of her writing:

It’s not in that book, but Ewing just published this new poem, entitled “I Saw Emmett Till This Week at the Grocery Store.” It hit me like a ton of bricks, perhaps doubly so since it arrived in my life on the same day that Alton Sterling’s killers walk free.

In any case, I think this is just extraordinarily beautiful and breaking:

I saw Emmett Till this week at the grocery store

looking over the plums, one by one
lifting each to his eyes and
turning it slowly, a little earth,
checking the smooth skin for pockmarks
and rot, or signs of unkind days or people,
then sliding them gently into the plastic.
whistling softly, reaching with a slim, woolen arm
into the cart, he first balanced them over the wire
before realizing the danger of bruising
and lifting them back out, cradling them
in the crook of his elbow until
something harder could take that bottom space.
I knew him from his hat, one of those
fine porkpie numbers they used to sell
on Roosevelt Road. it had lost its feather but
he had carefully folded a dollar bill
and slid it between the ribbon and the felt
and it stood at attention. he wore his money.
upright and strong, he was already to the checkout
by the time I caught up with him. I called out his name
and he spun like a dancer, candy bar in hand,
looked at me quizzically for a moment before
remembering my face. he smiled. well
hello young lady
hello, so chilly today
should have worn my warm coat like you
yes so cool for August in Chicago
how are things going for you
 he sighed and put the candy on the belt
it goes, it goes.

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