11:00 P.M., Tuesday, September 30, 1919:

The Hoop Spur Lodge Of The Progressive Farmers And Household Union Meets At Hoop Spur Church, Just North Of Elaine, Arkansas; First Shots Of The Elaine Race Massacre Ring Out.


The sounds of children, infants, and chatter

Of chatter encase and shrink the interior. A

Union, a progressive something or other. No

White men to stiffen or direct; we’re on our

Own. A baby boy cries out for the known

At hand; air thick with the first and yet to be,

Threats from ancient times and the here and the

Later for which we thirst, risk all and nothing,

Nothing more than one, for we breathe as one.


A high-pitched missile, a bevy, an avalanche

Above us like voices, angry whistles gone mad

With boards, tawny to char-black, ripped and

Sliced apart. The lanterns evaporate into mass,

Bullets invade, bodies search for escape, moving

Across the floor and out the windows and doors

Into the moonlight, into the cotton rows behind

The Hoop Spur Church, into the jealous shroud

Of another world, blessed stormless, merciful.


Crackles of more gunfire: rifles or shotguns

Explode along the slough; and blood and death

Are mentioned near the car that stands unmoved

As a silhouette against a sanctuary of silence that

Now repeats itself again and again with escapes

Finished, all headed alone into secret retreat,

Unaware of rising hordes to greet the morning

Tides, to impale with forms given quick birth by

The long and dank stare of blood in their eyes.

Early Morning, Wednesday, October 1, 1919:

Lonnie and Other White Men From McGehee Board A Missouri Pacific Railroad Train Bound For Elaine And The Killing Fields To Quell “The Black Insurrection.”


We have our rifles, pistols, and bullets,

But do we have enough anger? That’s

What I’ll ask myself. We didn’t start

This war nor did we choose it, black

Demons all. We can’t take our eyes off

Of the lot, trying to break loose. Why

Can’t they learn this world? God meant

It to be our way, or it just couldn’t be:

Blacks, merely a white man’s shadow.


Year after year, the same challenge, no

Less. We hold our guns and threats at

The ready, and our will sharpened like

Fine blades. With time passing, we grip

In place, unalterable, constant, as the land

Reaches back always to the sameness

That is known and to be known from

One generation to the next, not to be

Undone, certainty in unsure seasons.


Children cannot supplant the father, a

Truism that never quite gets its due

Respect, but through a rising storm or

By rope or scalded iron. The dreams

Of the obscure, the visions of unfree

Men – they fade under the first glow

Of sunrise, returning only in the dark

Persuasion of the untrue; but we, in

Form and fate, make such dreams trite.

Morning, Wednesday, October 1, 1919:

The Cotton Fields And Sharecropper Homes Off Of Highway 44, Near Hoop Spur Church, Become The First Major Killing Field Of The Massacre.


Traveling south on foot leading cars to follow –

Beyond daybreak, still morning, dew just dried

Against canebrakes – the posses seek motion,

Any motion, and turn off Highway 44 into

Enpocked roads where the sharecroppers stir

And then burst loose upon the shattering sounds

Of rifle fire descending on racing bodies toward

The slough, thickets, a coppice, and as far as

The woods, if only they can get there in time.


Black bodies are falling like corn stalks under

A machete, as they rise from lairs with arms

Stretched high to give themselves up – peace

Instead of terms and snares; still more are

Cut down with appeals echoing faintly below

Gun blasts stifling final pleas, final calls.

Confining children’s steps caught behind most,

Fathers live or die finding refuge for a family,

As mothers wait too long for sons to return home.


One cannot survey the sounds, but it is sound

That gives an answer today; for it signals

The place and the who and the hunting left

Among the cotton fields, which stand as a calm

And alternate universe to those now bleeding

Or dying or those, who call themselves white

And who continue to scream and pull triggers

In one constant rolling feat. This was the first

Day; no one took the trouble to count or subtract.

Late Morning, Wednesday, October 1, 1919:

Milligan Giles, Barely Conscious, Lies In The Mud, Shot Through The Chin Along Govan Slough By Henry Smiddy Of The Missouri Pacific Railroad – A Bullet Left Lodged In Milligan’s Neck.


At fifteen, what do I know or what

Should I know? I know the wind’s

Slim and the mud’s cool, as I ache

Like I never have before. As I lay

Dying? Will I be shot again and then

Again, motionless? I hear one body

Has been shot 26 times today before

They were through: a will to void

Is hardly the morning lust foreseen.


Crows caw amid distant and close

Shooting with Albert, my brother,

Hunted down, an animal in ebony

Bloom? Bearing five or six bullet

Holes – one through a fated head

Out an ear into the open fields, for

All things want to be free, free to

Rise above these bodies, shocked

And declined, lain to loom null.


The stories to pick up speed once

More bodies are counted near those

Who tell about us, the number here

Who wear the scars of history, blame,

And high lies. A soft speech to make

Up another word for how, where I

Lay among many, waiting for other

That may not happen at all, that may

Be parted by way of yet another plunge.

Early Afternoon, Wednesday, October 1, 1919:

Lonnie And Other White Men Walk The Streets Of Elaine Before Heading North Into The Cotton Rows Of More Killing Fields.


Speculation runs dry as a blanch bone,

For death had come here, to this place,

With no advance notice – just like heavy

Storms out of the west fall from above,

Lead weight to crush us or dumb earth.

The streets catching black bodies bound

To the dust and riddled here and there,

Left to the trinket-takers – token ears

Slashed loose, fingers, toes removed;


Keepsakes for home to make stories

Last, even flash: “I was there in Elaine,”

They’ll bray, “when others shuddered

Like leaves at a coming of black fury

To the front door. I was there,” they’ll

Spew – chilled air in rancid times, none

Won, just preserved. I walk dead among

The street dead in Elaine, while I hear

My name called, “Lonnie?” Lone passage?


The dead do speak: words unheard once

Before if I care to listen. We move north

Without inflection; we simply move to

Overtake land and a black other, hiding

Under the sun, underneath the terror we

Wish to reveal without panic or qualm,

A man gaining control of his claims, his

Careful inclusion, his worth. Here, one

Part of us severed from the rest, deemed.

About 4:00 P.M., Wednesday, October 1, 1919:

Lonnie And Other White Men Stalk Through The Cotton Rows, The Killing Fields, North Of Elaine.


Fear lingers everywhere, like blown dust,

Unsettled and invasive. Few rise above the

Crops’ horizon: no blacks at all, hiding in

Their lairs, watchful, silent, holding a stir

Just beneath and about us; hearts laden,

They squirm in cane and wood thickets

With a murmur from a child’s voice just

Hushed again. Are they waiting for us now,

As we must be waiting in careful haste?


A black corpse, among another, drapes dirt

Aside, and here and there, finished forms

Of unreal likelihood; one, two lying quaint,

Natural across, between corpulent plants, act

Of sleeping, of nearly a perfect or simplified

Shape. Far up the road, automobiles encircle

A home; vast movements there counter

The stillness here, embracing that tincture

Of effect, which hovers just above threat.


One of us calls to another that the blacks

Are massing somewhere near, explaining

The unstrung motion further north along

Highway 44; a surge out of the rivercane

Across the road, over the tracks, and below

The sight of an eye, a surge from the east,

A black surge rising nearby the shrouded

Slough will outnumber the faces we gather

Together – now is the time and nature.

Evening, Wednesday, October 1, 1919:

T. K. Jones, Security Chief In Eastern Arkansas For The Missouri Pacific Railroad, Boards A Train For The Short Trip From Elaine To Helena And Passes The Site Of The Hoop Spur Church, Now Burned To The Ground.


Should torches bring purity? No less,

Lies can be as pure as any truth that

Is; so much for purity in any form,

I’d say, if you think there’s reason

To divide truth from lies; more often,

What’s the purpose? For all seems

The same – at least here, where we

Inhabit hell and make the worst of it

On our long way to someplace else.


They came to alter the story by ashes,

To flame out the sentences and start

Anew, to have other nouns and verbs,

Many transformed adverbs and periods.

Arsonists don’t work well or very long

With commas and other pauses; four

Words to a sentence are much better,

If not best; no paragraphs at all, which

Get in the way of action and finality.


Who will remember what stood in

Place of the burned out message?

A few, if they’re still alive or haven’t

Gone on the road to find something

Of peace and otherness. We see them

Escaping through pockets of freedom

And deception, of tenacity and want;

We’ll miss them, taking their power

And eloquence to God knows where.

Before Midnight, Wednesday, October 1, 1919:

Sharecropper Frank Moore, His Mother, Wife, And Children Hide In Rivercane A Short Distance East Of The Killing Fields.


Daybreak will come with another round

Of vengeance, another onslaught, only worse,

With more rifles, more posses, fat meanness

And sins. The cane, thick as it is, cannot

Keep us; children will rustle, and white

Demons will tag us, for we have no place

Nor sanctum but for hell or heaven. My wife

Mary sobs every few minutes and tells us

We’re bound for Jesus and for glory-time.


Dying can’t be too far away for any sort,

Here and silent, or even by longer walks.

Be with us, Lord; give us space and closer

Homes. I don’t worry about gray nights –

The crickets, a safe breeze, and soft moon

Flushes comfort this panic, square and sharp

Angled, heating up while we wait for more

Morning to pile up its open traps or careless

Ways, which shall gather us and drive us on.


Let me sleep until it is then time to pass.

Let me sleep until I whisper long the last

Loving word to the last child that will go

Missing in Govan’s Slough, folded over

By mud and the haphazard rummage of

A year’s harvest. Let them murmur back

Of glee and splendor, a celebration of one

Breathful memory – nothing false, vile;

Let them be a child at the merciless end.

Morning, Thursday, October 2, 1919:

Frank Moore And His Family With Others, At The Edge Of The Canebrakes, Begin To Stir And Observe Federal Soldiers Advancing North Up Highway 44 From Elaine.


The faint smell of gunpowder mixed

With the odor of first mornings, crisp

And profound, yet to be fouled, cane

Still wet, potent; shots heard gone west

Corrupt signs that a new day has come,

Birds whistling in sunbeams, blue jays,

Crows already owning the tumid wind.

Could we keep the morning stopped

And the land reconciled amid balance?


Frank Moore takes a step or two into

Dewed grass, high along the road, for

A better look, cautiously: the story of

Yet another day of violence, yet to be

Told and yet it will be – a sermon halved

Between more hope and incursion, as

Weapons and words compete around

A prayer – praying that time remains

For a safe sundown to forage the day.


It wouldn’t be the same for others,

We later learn, with soldiers groomed

At the most tailored machine guns,

Aimed at coppices where neighbors

Lay breathless, pushing minutes or

Discovery to go by; instead, rapid

Fire took faith’s place, searing ice

Cold lead heated to death’s door, run

Straight, whether one twitched or not.


Children can save a few lost or down,

When soldiers spot us first among highest

Weeds; we, not yet standing atop a road,

Children in my hands by my wife,

Humming alone; my mother at a loss;

To shoot down a child grinds an oath

The soldiers wore, those we saw all

Uniformed and creased across the sky;

They wait on themselves, together, us.

About 9:30 A.M., Thursday, October 2, 1919:

Prominent Helena Black Dentist D.A.E. Johnston And His Three Brothers, Returning From A Hunting Trip, Are Immediately Arrested In Elaine And Are Shot And Killed Shortly Thereafter; One Of The Johnstons Reputedly Killed A White Man, Orley Lilly, In The Gunfight.


Stories happen even slowly for reasons

That have to do with words; but it was

Just a moment, and we were all slayed

And outside the car on the road with

Chains still holding us brothers as one.

Orley too shot through and through – by

One of us to start to settle the score? Who

Can ever know? We’re always behind in

The count, feeding tomorrow’s tale.


Bad surprises always open the bad

Places – I learned that about the time

I could pee standing up, and it’s been

That way; intent on us to show, they’d

Rehearsed a descent, the steps, the toll,

Warnings or sign, in sequence: no

Knock left out of order; we knew content

Was the least of it – we were only going

Through a final version of an allegory.


Hiding in our haste to survive while

Hiding as though we don’t even exist

For us to exist invisibly in shadows of

The whites’ circle roundabout us, and

We roundabout them, but always in

The shadows they cast with little or

No purpose, yet to watch us follow in

Step, always in step, inside or aside,

Behind – never in the rites of genesis.