Let me tell you about my son Benjamin and Dr. Martin Luther King, and how I came to write the poem below. And also why I am bringing the poem to light after it has been lying dormant with a collection of other poems in a bottom drawer for the past thirty-seven years, accessible to my eyes only.
Most people come of age in their teens. I came of age during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. I was well aware of Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech when in 1964 I grabbed the chance to march with many others down Yonge Street in Toronto against segregation in Selma, Alabama. Bus loads of Canadians travelled to Selma to encourage Black voter registration – which had only recently become legal. It was my first year teaching.
In his speech, Dr. King said he could see “One day when little black children would walk hand in hand with little white children …” He was shot and killed in 1968.
In the early ‘80s, I had the opportunity to live and work – on a conch farm – in a primarily Black community on a small island in the Caribbean. By then, I was the mother of a one-year-old. It was pure joy for me to see my little white child playing with little black children, living out Martin Luther King’s Dream.
In the islands, there was the chance to right the wrongs of the past, to live life the way it should be lived, free from the prejudices of race and colour.
I have a photo of little Ben playing in the sand with his little black friend Nevil. They are both three and a half. The ocean is placid just a few feet away. They are both on their knees, bodies energetically engaged in a fantastic creation, both with their weight on one arm while the other arm is madly pulling sand into a castle that defies archeological logic, but is clearly amazing to both of them. And they had to be fast, for the sun was almost down, on another prefect day, and their mothers would soon be taking them home.
Ben died not long after that photo. A Benless future was unimaginable and unacceptable. Poems were a way of connecting with his spirit and keeping him with me. I shared them with family at the time, but not since. They are too tender a part of me to be casually shared.
Then, George Floyd. After so many others. That’s why this is the right time and the right place for the boy named Benjamin to emerge from the bottom drawer into the light.
For Martin Luther King
She had a dream That one day Her little blond boy Would walk hand in hand With little black children. ~~ The dream came to pass They walked hand in hand Trekked island paths Built castles in the sand Ran Time into the ground. ~~ But, it turns out it’s Time Noncommittal and cold Does the running And Time runs out Into the costly cosmos. ~~ Dr. King? That little blond boy – Please take his hand in yours.