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Thursday, July 23, 2020


by Robert Knox


"What signifies the beauty of nature when men are base?" —Henry David Thoreau

He was thinking about the Fugitive Slave Act,
speaking at an anti-slavery rally along with Sojourner Truth in 1854
after Anthony Burns, who had escaped from bondage,
was arrested in Boston, where he has been
"working quietly in a clothing shop" on Beacon Hill.
It's just one more thing. It happens everywhere.
It's a tipping point.
Someone tips off a slave-catcher, they're hunting up North now,
empowered by federal law.
Burns is hauled before a special judge, in a special court,
created by the law to facilitate claims against persons of color
—"persons"! that Constitutional euphemism—by any white person.

Boston rallies and 'mobs' of protestors war with police,
seeking to free Burns, who is dragged through the streets
by federal marshals with guns drawn, guarded by an artillery regiment
and three platoons of marines, while thousands of angry locals
watch helplessly, cowed by force of arms.
Burns is returned to Virginia, shackled,
and flogged.

At the rally held in Framingham, Mass. on July 4, 1854.
Thoreau confided that he had suffered "a vast and indefinite loss"—
but, he asked himself, what was it? "At last it occurred to me
that what I had lost was a country."

And so, reading in yesterday's newspaper, and again today,
that armed thugs, "federal officers" culled from border police and ICE,
were firing weapons, hurling flash bombs,
and kidnapping protestors from the streets of Portland, Oregon,
where they had no lawful business to be
and where no assistance from the federal government
had been sought by local authorities—
but simply performing in the absence of all legal warrant
as T***p's chosen "Brown Shirts,"

I find myself thrown once again into days of  rage,
unsettled in my mind, as I too often have been
since the dark days of November 2016:
feeling deprived of something valuable, if imperceptible,
dear to me and to many,

that I too have 'lost my country,'
and that finding it again is no sure thing.

Robert Knox is a poet, fiction writer, Boston Globe correspondent, and the author of a novel based on the Sacco and Vanzetti case, titled Suosso's Lane. As a contributing editor for the online poetry journal Verse-Virtual his poems appear regularly on that site. They have also appeared in journals such as Off The Coast, The Journal of American Poetry, South Florida Poetry Journal, TheNewVerse.News, Califragile, and Unlikely Stories. His poetry chapbook Gardeners Do It With Their Hands Dirty, published in 2017, was nominated for a Massachusetts Best Book award. The chapbook Cocktails in the Wild followed in 2018. He was recently named the winner of the 2019 Anita McAndrews Poetry Award.