Oregon Elegy

by Christian Campbell

for I.H.

I once told a friend, who was going
to Oregon for Christmas with his girlfriend,

he’d be the only black person there
and, in fact, if you shuffle Oregon,

like a seasoned minstrel, it spells Negro
but with an extra O as if to make

a groan, nearly a shout, perhaps
a moment of fright: O Negro in Oregon!

He died laughing and told me
that’s word-lynching, and I wondered

if we could also lynch words,
string them up, sever them,

tattoo them with bullets and knives;
if we could hold a barbecue

for language swaying with the branches,
soon picked to silence by crows—

words soaked in coal oil
then set ablaze, a carnival of words

sacrificed over rivers, from bridges,
from trees, too-ripe words dangling

from branches just beyond our reach.
Like Alonzo Tucker in 1906,

shot twice, then hanged
from the Fourth Street Bridge

by two hundred men arched into one
white arm because (we wonder,

we know) a white woman said
he raped her. I want to tell my boy

blacks weren’t wanted in Oregon
at first, but what do I know, I’ve never

set foot on Nez Perce land where
exactly one hundred years after

Tucker, he could go west to one edge
of America because he loves

his woman enough to be
the very last Negro on Earth.

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