By Joseph Ross

Two Men Raised, Right Panel
for James Byrd and Barack Obama

A man raised
his hand

to protect his face
from the rocks

on the Texas road where
they were dragging him.

He was tied with chains
to a pick-up truck

and dragged by
five centuries of blind men

who could only see
what they feared.

A man raised
his hand

on a January morning
to swear in public

that he could see
things he did not fear

and that the road
he would walk upon

had rocks
but no chains.

Two Men Raised, Left Panel
for Tommie Smith and John Carlos

In a summer of snipers
some men raised their hands

with fingers pressed
to triggers

trying to squeeze away
a generation’s hope.

But you lifted your hands
to conduct a choir

just learning to sing
anthems of a victory

not yet won.
The world watched you,

standing shoeless,
like so many others,

with no protection
from the earth itself,

its bullets, its boundaries
real as a waiting noose,

a lynching tree,
and a gathering crowd.

You raised your hands,
gloved and black

and held us all
for just a moment

where no rope
could reach.


Two Men Raised, Center Panel
for Martin Luther King, Jr, and Malcolm X

One of you is round
like water,

the other, angular
like water falling.

Both of you searched
for the house

where love could rest.
One had to walk

across a bruising bridge,
into a bombed out church,

where four little girls
stood silent.

The other walked out
of a burning house,

into a smoking prison
the size of a nation

only to end up kneeling
in a mosque the size

of the world.
One raised his hands

insisting on roses
while the other

insisted on the truth
of sand.

Joseph Ross lives in Silver Spring, Maryland and teaches part-time at American University in Washington, D.C., and is the interim poetry and lectures coordinator at the Folger Shakespeare Library. He’s been involved in the Washington, D.C., poetry community for about 10 years.