James Earl Ray

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Dante descends through kudzu
hairy green leaves a fragrant rot
smothering the trees and slopes
infested with slithering sounds
close to his thin-clad legs.

He tastes his salty sweat
and smells acrid tar.
There! A bubbling pit so hot
it seems to sear his face.

From this cauldron
a black coated head stares up.
“Pilgrim! Betcha got water
        under that coat.”

“Man, who are you? Why are you suffering so?

“My name is James Earl Ray.
I shot a preacher in Memphis.
Now gimme some water.”

Dante recoils as if he’d trod on a snake
recognition more lethal than venom.
“You killed Martin Luther King!”

“Martin Luther Coon!”

Shock presses him down like a yoke
as recalls core words of a speech:
“I have a dream!”

“Your mind’s wanderin’, Pilgrim.”

“I have a dream!”

“I know what you’re thinkin’, Pilgrim. See it in your face.
But he weren’t worth all that ink and air time.”

“I have a dream!”

“Don’t look at me that way, White Boy! You no
better than me! You just a White Boy down
heah chasin’ yer Girly-Girl Dream!”

“I have a dream!”

“You gonna give me water, White Boy?
Come a time you might be down heah.
You ain’t done nothin’
but dream and write curly verse crap!
I took action!”

“I have a dream!”

“You losin’ it, White Boy!
You livin’ all in yer head again!
Never do nothin’ yourself!
That preacher was just a loud-mouth n–”

“Abomination, racist! You will not use that word!
Even here you will not use that word!”

Dante turns from the stink of hate
the heat of tar, his face seared
by knowledge of depravity’s depth.
He seeks escape, his mind still ringing.
“I have a dream!”

“You won’t find her down here, White Boy!
You just a girly-girl!”

Dante claws through kudzu
fearful of the darkened path
which leads not to the flashing pink
above the jagged, saw-tooth land
but
        down
                and down
                        and down
                                to dark.

James Earl Ray was an American criminal convicted of the assassination of the civil rights and anti-war activist Martin Luther King, Jr.

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