Obama Shuffle: Election Day Poetry

I've been on tour in the swing states of Appalachia these days -- southern Ohio, West Virginia, southwest Virginia -- having crisscrossed through Indiana, Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, where I saw an Obama sign adjacent to a neighbor's Confederate flag, guided all the way by intrepid Appalachian radio stations playing Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed and Delivered (I'm Yours)".

But one of the most hopeful signs appeared in my email box last night -- these wonderful poems on the historic importance of the election from eastern Kentuckian author Frank X. Walker, the Lannan Award-winning poet and editor of the Affrilachian (African American Appalachian) magazine Pluck:


by Frank X. Walker

Myrlie Evers

Three months before Emmett Till arrived

Reverend George Lee was killed

by a shotgun blast, to the face.

It was ruled, a traffic accident.

He had been the first to register

to vote in his county.

One week before Emmett Till arrived

Lamar Smith voted in the democratic primary

then was shot at high noon

in front of the county courthouse.

There were no arrests.

Medgar cried when he heard about Emmett Till

then he dressed as a sharecropper

helped find witnesses

and smuggled them out of town

for their safety.

When Uncle Mose stood up in court

pointed right at J.W.Milam, and identified him

as the killer, we thought the air would split

but it didn't-instead a seam opened up

in that place where we keep all our fears


by Frank X. Walker

To the seasoned black women in line behind me when I went to early vote

we move as if chained together, we move like we are
pacing out the complex steps to the new line dance

thank you for taking off work today, for standing
outside in the cold on sore feet for so long
bundled in winter scarves, long skirts, leather coats,
faux fur, bandanas, fatigues, sweats and jeans
clutching designer purses, book bags and paper sacks

to the right, to the right, to the right, to the right

thank you for clearing your throat
when anybody forgot to move the line

thank you for leaning on your canes
for looking over your reading glasses

to the left, to the left, to the left, to the left

for casting a watchful eye at the poll workers
and at me and at everybody within squinting distance

for wearing my mother's nose on your faces, for wearing
her shoes, for standing with your hands on your hips too

now kick, now kick, now kick, now kick

now move as if chained together, now move like we are
pacing out the complex steps to the new line dance

now walk it by yourself, now walk it by yourself