Anthem

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo: Dick DeMarsico, World Telegram staff photographer/Library of Congress)

Gathering in St. Paul 40 years after Selma,
the speakers’ arms pump and flail;
the voices of the preacher and senator ring out
and we step into the stream like revelers,
cheerful on the buoyant morning,
walking the half-mile from Central High School
to Concordia College.

W. Rayford Johnson blares directions through the bullhorn.
At the end of each row, the Million Man Marchers
walk sentry in their black jackets
with the letters, M.A.R.C.H:
Men Are Responsible for Cultivating Hope.
We are all here to protect that frail plant.

My friend links arms with her granddaughters.
I hold the hands of grandchildren muffled in mittens
and scarves. They can’t see over
the crowd, but they know this
is leading them to cookies.

Behind us men start singing, We Shall Overcome,
holding the banner of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute
in memory of the man who organized the railway porters.
In front of us, Jews in their yarmulkes
join in stoutly. The blind are tapping their canes.

I take up the anthem.
We’re singing out and marching like Martin:
We are not afraid
We’ll walk hand in hand
The whole wide world around

But even as I’m singing,
the minor keys gather round the high note
and start the descent, the sadness
always there

in the heart of January,
in a song of someday.

Norita Dittberner-Jax is a poet whose work has been widely published. She has an abiding love for Saint Paul, having been raised in Frogtown, taught English in its schools, and continues to live in this lovely city. Her books of poems include The Watch and What They Always Were.

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