Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday's Poetry: "Strange Fruit"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

"...The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel.  He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament.  He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low. 
"But the Gospels actually taught this: 
"Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure that he isn't well connected.  So it goes."   
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five.

Abel Meeropol was a public school teacher in New York City in the mid-1930's when he happened to see a gruesome photograph of a lynching victim hanging from a tree.  The photo led him to compose the poem Strange Fruit.  The poem morphed into a song and quickly became the signature number of the great Billie Holiday.  It has since been recorded by a host of artists including Carmen McRae, Nina Simone, Sting, and Tori Amos.

In addition to being a teacher, Abel Meeropol was an active member of the American Communist Party, and he went on to become the adoptive father of the two orphaned sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a couple who were themselves victims of a lynching mentality.

Christianity and racism have never been strangers, and indeed for a good part of our history some of the most dangerous bigots in America have cloaked themselves in religion - and the flag.  Fortunately, lynchings have almost become a thing of the past, but the cases of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr, serve to show us that people still kill as a direct result of their prejudices.    The crowd cheering the use of capital punishment at the Republican debate a week or two ago also speaks loudly to the thirst for blood among some people who proudly tout their Christian identity.

Thou shalt not kill - well, at least don't kill anyone who is well connected!

Strange Fruit
by Abel Meeropol

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

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