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poetry Oh, Say Can You See

Alabama poet Jacqueline Allen Trimble points to the slave origins of the Star Spangled Banner linking the song to today’s Black Lives Matter and other protests.


Oh, Say Can You See

By Jacqueline Allen Trimble


          No refuge could save the hireling and slave

          From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave

                                                           Francis Scott Key

Those slaves at Fort McHenry

never had a chance

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to kneel.

Probably dead before

they hit the ground,

like that boy shot

twenty times,

his cell phone still

smoking in his hand,

his grandmother’s backyard

a burial ground

not sacred enough—

nor was his body

a temple the cops

dare not enter.

Maybe if he had

wrapped himself in stars

and stripes, someone

would have unholstered

a hand, placed it

on the heart

and begun to sing.

Patriotic songs

of the brave:

Lift every voice

My soul looks back

Before I’ll be a slave

I’ll be buried

in my grave.

How many black bodies

must fall to hallow

these urban battlefields?

This is not a rhetorical

question. I am asking

for the exact body count.

Jacqueline Allen Trimble is a Cave Canem Fellow and an Alabama State Council on the Arts Literary Fellow. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies and journals including The Louisville Review, The Offing, and Poet Lore.  Published by NewSouth Books, her first collection, American Happiness, won the 2016 Balcones Poetry Prize.  Jennifer Horne, the poet laureate of Alabama, wrote about the collection, “Her grace is in the anger distilled to the bitter draft you savor as it bites,” and Honoree Jeffers, the 2018 Harper Lee Award Winner for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer, said, “I longed for her kind of poetry, these cut-to-the flesh poems, this verse that sings the old time religion of difficult truths with new courage and utter sister-beauty.  And I am so grateful for her gift, her grown-woman poetics.” Trimble lives and writes in Montgomery, Alabama, where she is a professor of English and chairs the Department of Languages and Literatures at Alabama State University.