Poetry

On a Bench In Birmingham

On a Bench In Birmingham

We met on a bench in Birmingham

You the 16th child of 19 with wisdom beyond all that you’ve seen

Me the middle child of three

With questions beyond my third degree.

We met on a bench in Birmingham

Beside the Freedom Walk.

How many footsteps have gotten us here?

How much blood, how many weary tears?

How many lynchings and burning crosses?

What has been given up to get us here?

For every line of march there was a phalanx of helmets and clubs.

For every ballot cast there was a sheriff on the courthouse steps.

For every prayer raised up in church there was a slamming jailhouse door.

For every song of hope there was a bomb.

Your people shedding heavy yokes of compliance

My people holding empty reins of hatred

Your people singing songs of freedom

My people justifying tyranny.

Yours is a story of holding the spirit through the loneliness of war and drugs

As those before you held the spirit through the drudgery of segregation and slavery.

Mine is a story of releasing the spirit from fear of loss and pain

        As those before me released the spirit from the grip of self-righteous power.

And each of us, and all of us, seeking the same freedom.

And so we met

You spoke in an unbroken stream with God’s tongue

Your tears flowing freely in the sun

I listened desperately beyond God’s light

My tears shed in the darkness of night.

Your faith is simple, powerful

Mine is complex, fragile

Together we bore witness to the God who sustains us

Who guided those on the roads of conflict

Who brought each of us down parallel paths

To a park bench in Birmingham,

Beside the Freedom Walk.

©Mark Richards, July 2009

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