Sunday, October 17, 2010

For Those Who Remain Silent




I Held the Coats

Pelted with stones, ragged and worn, bleeding and crying
Stephen looked to heaven, pleading to God
A merciful rock struck his head

“I think he’s dead,” someone said.

The men, soaked in sweat, glowed with righteous pride
Satisfied one of those blasphemers died

Saul was happy his hands remained unstained with blood
He’d only held their coats and watched
The man lying on the ground, dying for what he believed
What had they achieved, justice?
Only God would know

                    ~

Michael glared at Monty
Nose flared, lips curled with disdain

“You’re a fag,” Michael said.
“You don’t belong here, queer.”

A crowd gathered
A chant rose among the voices
“You don’t belong here, queer!
You don’t belong here, queer!”

I was there, standing next to my locker
Holding my coat
I knew Monty from drama class
He had talent, expressive and cool
Now, only a fool would be his friend

I could’ve shouted Michael down, yell he was a liar
But I just stood there, aware of the tears welling in Monty’s eyes
Red cheeks betraying his stoic disguise

He had to walk down that hall
Every day for the next two years

I didn’t chant the words or yell a slur
But I’m sure I bear the guilt of persecution

Because –
I held my coat and stood idly by

                    ~           

I was in the Army
Basic training at Ft. Benning, Georgia
There was a guy in my platoon
His name was Fleer
Soft spoken, articulate, generous and helpful
I wondered why he wanted to be in the Infantry

The word got around fast
“Fleer is a queer”
Even the Drill Sergeant uttered his name with distaste

Suspicion about him came to a crest
Before we marched to bivouac, they gave him two shelter halves
He had to be in a tent by himself

Odd man out
Drill Sergeant threw me another half, also
I cursed the added weight, the extra item
I had to cram into an already crowded rucksack

I knew I could’ve lightened my load, lightened Fleer’s as well
If I could’ve said, “What the hell,”
Volunteer to be his buddy

I didn’t say a word
I hoisted my ruck, bent over from the load
Fleer’s face told me he carried a burden heavier than mine

I could’ve been a friend to Fleer
But people would’ve thought I was queer

He didn’t make it
Dropped out the next week
Rumor was, he told the company commander
He was a homosexual
Everybody laughed

I didn’t gossip or go along with their views
I didn’t say anything
But I do bear the guilt
I held the coats

                    ~

After work one night police officers gathered for “choir practice”
On the roof of the old Wonder Bread building downtown
Drinking beer, laughing, unwinding
We were having a good time

Somebody assessed the turnout
Impressed, he said, “We all made it, all but one.”

“Ah shit,” came another drunken slur. “He don’t count.”

A third voice broke into the fray, harmonized with the other two
“He’s so sensitive,” he said, limp wrist and lisp

The crowd, aroused, soon took up the tune
They crooned, “He’s not one of us.”

They sang their diatribes, voices corrupted to cries
Spreading the lie that fags deserve to die  

I tried to smile, pretended to laugh
Just playing along, I didn’t sing their song

I knew Joe’s reputation was damaged by this
A voice of reason could’ve reversed the sting
But I couldn’t sing on Joe’s behalf

I remained silent

I held the coats

                    ~

Now, I stand here, labeled as queer
I walk my own gauntlets, now
I know I’m a hypocrite when I ask you to speak in my behalf
If you should hear people cursing my life

Throw down those coats, don’t stand idly by
Say something, take action

Someday you may know the pain of persecution
The price of cowardice
When intervention can shift their attention
Away from you




2 comments:

  1. beautiful!

    My contribution...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgLuBhJvPU8

    ReplyDelete