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Mark Olival-Bartley studied applied linguistics at Hawaii Pacific University, attaining B.A. and M.A. degrees in Teaching English as a Second Language, and poetry at the City College of New York. He is now writing a dissertation on the sonnets of E. A. Robinson at LMU, where he tutors composition alongside editing flyers on poetry and style. His poems and translations have appeared in journals on both sides of the Atlantic. He is the resident poet at EcoHealth, where his science-themed verse is regularly featured, and a senior copyeditor at Review of International American Studies. He also teaches at Münchner Volkshochschule and leads the Amerikahaus Literaturkreis.

20160709

Ballad of Birmingham

by Dudley Randall

(On the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963)

“Mother dear, may I go downtown 
Instead of out to play, 
And march the streets of Birmingham 
In a Freedom March today?” 

“No, baby, no, you may not go, 
For the dogs are fierce and wild, 
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails 
Aren’t good for a little child.” 

“But, mother, I won’t be alone. 
Other children will go with me, 
And march the streets of Birmingham 
To make our country free.” 

“No, baby, no, you may not go, 
For I fear those guns will fire. 
But you may go to church instead 
And sing in the children’s choir.” 

She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair, 
And bathed rose petal sweet, 
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands, 
And white shoes on her feet. 

The mother smiled to know her child 
Was in the sacred place, 
But that smile was the last smile 
To come upon her face. 

For when she heard the explosion, 
Her eyes grew wet and wild. 
She raced through the streets of Birmingham 
Calling for her child. 

She clawed through bits of glass and brick, 
Then lifted out a shoe. 
“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore, 
But, baby, where are you?”

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