He’s Back

by | Jul 24, 2020

By Bob Houghtaling

Civil Rights icon John Lewis recently passed away after battling a long-term illness. His courage, leadership and adherence to the precepts of Martin Luther King earned him great respect. They also got him into “good trouble” from time-to-time. Much has changed since the 1960s, but race relations continue to be a major concern in this country. There are many who block progress to this day. Black Americans (and other minorities) often face daunting challenges. 

Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow powerfully depicts the conditions that lead to mass incarcerations for Black Americans. These incarcerations then lead to unemployment, poverty and trips back to prison. The poem Old Bird Jim yyseeks to paint a picture that Jim Crow has reinvented himself and continues to cast a dark shadow. 

Old Bird Jim

That old bird Jim
My oh my
Seems once again
To be flying by

I’ve seen him before
But not for some time
At least how I thought
He’s still in his prime

Now here once again
The pernicious vision
He’s stopping to visit
Our schools and prisons
Then off once again
A specter of hate
Old Bird Jim is patient
He’ll silently wait

Stop your celebrations
We’ve been here before
He first started flying
Right after the war
Once he wore sheets
Now more controlled
Old Jim ain’t stupid
And still after your soul

A little crow hop
When finding the ground
Jim wants you to know
That hate’s always around
He likes the warm air
Yet crosses the line
Traveling about country
And doing quite fine

That Old Bird Jim
My oh my
Seems once again
To be flying by
I’ve seen him before
But not for some time
At least how I thought
He’s still in his prime

Thank you, John Lewis.

Bob Houghtaling is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program, a mental health counselor, and a poetry lover.


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