1. King Cotton, 1907
From every corner of the photograph, flags wave down
the main street in Vicksburg. Stacked to form an arch,
the great bales of cotton rise up from the ground
like a giant swell, a wave of history flooding the town.
When Roosevelt arrives—a parade—the band will march,
and from every street corner, flags wave down.
Words on a banner, Cotton, America’s King, have the sound
of progress. This is two years before the South’s countermarch—
the great bolls of cotton, risen up from the ground,
infested with boll weevils—a plague, biblical, all around.
Now, negro children ride the bales, clothes stiff with starch.
From up high, in the photograph, they wave flags down
for the President who will walk through the arch, bound
for the future, his back to us. The children, on their perch—
those great bales of cotton rising up from the ground—
stare out at us. Cotton surrounds them, a swell, a great mound
bearing them up, back toward us. From the arch,
from every corner of the photograph, flags wave down,
and great bales of cotton rise up from the ground.