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By Martha Collins

not as in pin, the kind that keeps the wheels
turning, and not the strip of land that marks
the border between two fields. unrelated
to link, as in chain, or by extension whatever
connects one part to another, and therefore
not a measure of a chain, which in any
case is less than the span of a hand hold-
ing the reins, the rope, the hoe, or taking
something like justice into itself, as when
a captain turned judge and gave it his name.
that was before it lost its balance and crossed
the border, the massed body of undoers
claiming connection, relation, an intimate
right to the prized parts, to the body undone.

* * * *

there was a second another
a white there were two
that night the second an after

thought said one of the papers
the other said when they couldn’t find
the second black in the jail they took

instead the white who’d murdered
his wife because (she said before
she died) she’d refused—

not prejudice the papers
said the hanging of Henry Salzner
proves they were not moved by race

Added: Monday, June 30, 2014  /  Selections from "Blue Front" (Graywolf Press 2006). Used with permission.
Martha Collins

Martha Collins's Admit One: An American Scrapbook (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016),  White Papers (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012) and the book-length poem Blue Front (Graywolf Press, 2006) combine documentary research with innovative poetic techniques to explore disturbing aspects of America’s history, including race and racism. Described by the AWP Chronicle as “a dazzling poet whose poetry is poised at the juncture between the lyric and ethics,” Collins has also published four collections of co-translated Vietnamese poetry and (among other books of poetry) Night Unto Night (Milkweed Editions, 2018) and Day Unto Day (Milkweed Editions, 2014). Founder of the creative writing program at UMass-Boston, she served as Pauline Delaney Professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College for ten years and as Distinguished Visiting Writer at Cornell University in 2010. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Learn more at Martha Collins’s website.

Other poems by this author