Death of a Man
by Richard Davidson

(dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.)

They have found you,
In the vacancies of night,
They have killed you,
They hunted you like great stone eagles,
They slew you with a stone as big as hate.
How do you measure a man?
How do you sign along the dotted line where
Blood is shown in printed horror.
How do you measure what he said and did?
There are words and words,
There are headlines and voices booming
Over speakers.
There are the turning, twisting knobs of
Pain that cross the wires on a dozen
Oh my angel who believed in peace,
The man who took a stand,
The man who put himself in danger for the
People he loved,
All people, the road is quiet,
The long, hard journey for you has ended,
the bullet in Memphis was manufactured
By the makers of Fascism.
You are dead by the side of the angry road.
You are dead as
Christ, and the martyrs
Who dripped their bones for the rights of

I am not black and can only imagine the
Pain of prejudice that swims through the
Doors of broken alleys and aching rooms.
I have not felt the rope around my neck,
Yet your words leave me limp,
And your death leaves me numb.
How do you measure a man?
What a time this is,
What a long, shadowy, crying time.
The land is dark and the road is empty.
The sky is punctured and the sea turns
You were a man of peace
In a time of war,
You were a man of gentleness
In a time of hate.
This is the century where the wrong people die,
Where the wrong people starve,
Where the wrong people cry.
There is a crack in the earth that cannot be
There is a piece of flower that will never
There is a dash of dirt that runs into the
There is death written on the wind.

How do you measure a man?
By cards, by books, by speeches?
By words on a silver plate?
You had a dream. A dream that goes back
To the seeds of time,
You had a dream. This groping, stumbling, beginning
Plant of freedom,
Freedom for blacks and whites
Freedom to cross hands in the pyramid of night,
Freedom to walk a street, to ride a bus, to go to
Freedom to cut the hanging tree and open the door
Of the free man's house.
You put down the gun,
You walked with your hands outstretched.
You walked singing in the long lines of faith.
Now you are dead
Twisted out of shape by
Madness on the ripe end of a pistol.
Your preachment was simple but American,
As true as our own Bill of stirring rights.
As true as Frederick Douglass spoke a hundred
Years ago.
Now you are dead,
And there is anger in the night.
An anger at senselessness,
An anger at waste,
An anger that rips the cover off the false
Promises and phony slogans.
And yet, that dream, that stumbling, groping,
Beginning dream,
Is that to be forgotten now?
Or cast aside in bloodshed and doubt and death?
No, no, my friend, we will not let it die,
Those us, black, white, or purple,
Those like Evers, Schwerner, Emmett Till,
And before them, Sacco and Vanzetti,
Heroes who have known the taste of poverty,
Madness and decay,
Who have known sickness and who will not bend
To that sickness.
Martin, symbol of a land gone sour,
You knew the real America. The America kept off
The television. The America we don't see on
Screens twenty feet high.
The America as deep in ourselves as granite,
To take our hands, those hands that shake or fear
Or wrap themselves in bruises too numerous to
But still to take those hands and to build
That America that you dreamed.
You are dead now,
And there are no prayers that will bring
You back.
The emptiness of that road will stay empty,
But those you touched and those who believed
And those yet to come will fill your road.
The evening draws near. The stars slowly rise,
May your blood flow in the next freedom march,
May your words sing as the new school is built,
May your face bloom in the hundred, settling
Fires of equality's camp.
I hear it in the wind. I hear it in the sky.
You are not dead. You will never die,
There may be anger,
There will be shouts and screams and fists,
And yet, your dream is true. And the good
The real Americans know it's true.
We all mourn with our own individual scars,
You have taught us not to be afraid.
We hope as the crack of dawn shoots across
Our windows,
That your face will guide us in the
Blossoming of a new day,
A new America,
And a new tomorrow.

originally published in Freedomways, volume 9, number 2, Spring, 1969.

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