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poetry Red Summer

Phillips County, Arkansas, hometown of the most lynching, inspired the poet Gerry Sloan to remember the tragedy at Elaine a century ago.

Red Summer

By Gerry Sloan



(Centennial of the Elaine

Race Massacre: October, 2019)

The dust devils of eastern Arkansas

are not currents of air,

as we wrongly suppose,

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but rather spirits of the victims

of the Elaine Race Massacre

seeking lost repose, returning

as a reminder of our collective crimes

when racism and fascism combine.

I still see state poet laureate,

Lily Peter, sitting on the porch

of her Delta plantation, bemoaning

the loss of spring peepers, as industrial

agriculture sank its fangs deeper

into the loam of Phillips County,

the ancestral home of lynching,*

events in Elaine just the cherry

on top of the shit sundae served

to its citizens for almost a century.

When whirling dervishes speak

the dialect of cottonwood trees,

they leave only this white shroud

on the killing ground, a delicate

mantle that will last a few weeks

then be gone to sprout its own likeness.

“In 2015, the Equal Justice Initiative counted more than 4,000 lynchings between 1877

and 1950 in twelve states of the old Confederacy. Leading all other counties in these

states was Phillips County, Arkansas, with 254 lynchings; in second place were two

Louisiana parishes with 51 lynchings each.” —Patsy Watkins, It’s All Done Gone (The

University of Arkansas Press, 2018)

Gerry Sloan is a retired music professor living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. His collections are Paper Lanterns (Half Acre Press, 2011) and Crossings: A Memoir in Verse (Rollston Press, 2017), both available on Amazon plus five chapbooks including one in Mandarin. Recent work appears in Slant, Nebo, Cantos, Xavier Review, Arkansas Review, Cave Region Review (featured poet), and Elder Mountain (featured poet). He can be reached at: