Today's poem, "The Cold Within" by James Patrick Kinney, is actually more of a parable that discusses the coldness and disconnectedness among humans and the devastating impact that can have on our very survival. I chose it for today's selection because of the bitter coldness without (the actual weather) and as a tribute to today's observance of Martin Luther King Day.
James Patrick Kinney was an early civil rights activist. His son tells the story of the elder Kinney, the poet, and a group of friends from church approaching their local city council in Cheviot, Ohio, asking that a law banning black people from being on the streets after dark be stricken from the books. The council responded by saying that as there were no black families living in the city, and therefore blacks found on the streets after dark would be up to no good - and they declined to rescind the law. Mr. Kinney and some of his friends then recruited a black activist family to move into Cheviot and helped them get settled. The group next approached the council a second time and informed them of the city's new circumstances. The city council of Cheviot, Ohio, reluctantly agreed to strike the Jim Crow law from the city's ordinances.
Here is James Patrick Kinney's best remembered poem:
The Cold Within
by James Patrick Kinney
Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.
Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.
The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.
The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?
The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.
The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.
The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.
Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.