July 15, 2024

There’s been a lot of excitement around Jones County and South Mississippi lately because Gary Ross of Hunger Games fame (just for a start) is gearing up to shoot a film about a local Civil War Era legend by the name of Newt Knight.

If you want to know more about Newt, Google is your friend, and I am in too much of a hurry right now to say much more. But I want to make a contribution to the movie mania anyway, so here’s a poem that I wrote about Newt Knight. It’s one of a series.

The Murderer

Your one job is to pull that trigger.

Make the barrel appear
as if from nowhere,
dark against darkness.

Aim. Crook your finger.
Say a prayer to your God.
In the bang of creation,
in the deafening crack
that brings death to life,
allow yourself to be swallowed
whole by the night.

The rest of the job is ours.

You will not be found.
You will not be brought
to justice on this night
by anything other than
the sheer luck or good
talent of failing
to leave a trail.

This will not stop us from naming you.
This will not stop us from casting you
in our own image:
Good and Evil,
the epitome of both,
the double nature of us all.

On the floor in a house
that will be haunted
from this night forward,
a Confederate officer lies dead,
the only clues the death itself,
and the broken window
from which it came.

Of you we sing.

You are one man,
containing the multitudes of us,
everything we love and hate
about the South,
everything we love and hate
about ourselves.

Did you do it?
Of course you did, if only
because we have told it
as gospel truth for so long.

Of course you did not, if only
because we have nothing more
than legend to place you at the scene.

You are the eternally unobserved.
You are both true and untrue
in equal portions, both there
and not there, both guilty and innocent,
both hero and villain.

You need nothing more than us
to make it so, nothing more than
our telling and retelling
of you as we see ourselves,
nothing more than
our insatiable hunger
to believe in one true version
of any legend ever handed down.

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