Before Michael Brown and Freddie Gray

A  Poem by Donal Mahoney
Who celebrates 
the birthday of a tree?
Birds and squirrels, perhaps,
but not Michael Brown 
and not Freddie Gray
and not Rufus Jackson, who was
hung from a weeping willow in 1863.
Rufus stole an apple pie
cooling on a window sill,
a farmer’s wife said
She told her husband about it 
when he came in from threshing.
An uncle found Rufus
and cut him from the tree.  
His family buried him 
behind a willow not too far 
from a barn in Mississippi 
where two men took Emmitt Till, 
a boy from the city, in 1958. 
Both men said Emmitt had
whistled at a white man’s wife. 
The two men beat Emmitt, 
gouged an eye out, shot him 
in the head, tossed his body 
in the Tallahatchie River, not far 
from the grave of Rufus Jackson,
said to have stolen an apple pie, then 
hung from a weeping willow in 1863.


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