Cell Mates: Poetry

By Paul Swenson


Called to hold the keys

of mysteries. Yet both,

at 34, were locked away;

Joseph jailed at Liberty,

dropped through a hole


in prison floor into the pit.

In Birmingham, Martin

declared: Where there

is injustice, I am there,

and it would not be fair


of me to spurn the call

for aid to preach abroad

the Freedom Gospel.

Just as Paul was not

afraid to leave the town


of Tarsus, and in cells

throughout the Roman

Empire, tell of Christ.

Jailers for these eccentric

visionaries were curious:


Guards made mock

of Joseph—withdrew

in shock  and fear

when he rebuked

them. Martin’s keepers,


peering through the bars,

were moved—by prayers,

songs, words of praise

raised by men in chains.

History’s remains?


The letters. From Liberty,

name framed in irony,

Joseph wrote, Circumstance

calculated to awaken

our spirits to sacred


remembrance. Nothing

can separate us from love

of God and fellowship, one

with another. Every cruelty

practiced on us [or on a brother]


will only bind our hearts together.

From Alabama, Martin penned,

We are caught in…mutuality…

tied by…a garment of destiny.

To purge their peoples, mobbers


and assassins came. When you

see them lynch your mothers,

drown your sisters, brothers…

hate-filled policemen…you may understand it’s hard for us


to wait, read Martin’s missive.

At 39, they both were dead.

Joseph gone to Carthage,

calm as summer’s morning,

Martin to the mountaintop,


then to Memphis for the kill.

I want to do God’s will, he said.

I don’t fear any man.

I’ve seen the glory of the Lord.

And, so had Joseph.

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