Damien Ricketts, co-captain of the riverboat,
Harriot II, probably thought he was as alone
as Rosa Parks when she refused to give her seat—
her right to a space–to a white man
on a public bus in Alabama, whose governor
had promised on the Capitol’s steps, “Segregation
now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,”
and for forty-five minutes, he reasoned with white
men to move their pontoon. But when he tried to unmoor
their boat, the white owners wouldn’t have it,
and like their ancestors, who had “hunted and penned”
black men, they screamed, “Fuck that nigger,” and hit
Damien—to teach him the lesson he hadn’t learned:
that white men can occupy any space they like
and make him an example for those of his kind.
But Damien threw his cap, summoning his skinfolk,
and they didn’t have the patience Dr. King advised.
One jumped, another swam, while another clocked
a white man with a folding chair. For they’d watched
helplessly as their brother, George Floyd, was pinned,
and choked to death by a cop on live TV, and recalled
the ancestor who’d said, “If any man lays a hand
on you, make sure he can never lay a hand
on anyone else,” and formed a circle around
Damien, so his “precious blood” would not be shed
and called on a higher power to protect their brother
from the “murderous, cowardly pack” he defied.
Alabama has always played a pivotal role in the history of race in America, and I hope this incident is a turning point for how black folk treat each other.