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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing March 2023
Don’t worry Mamma, poems by Maria McDonnell.
Don’t worry Mamma
I’ll be fine Mamma, don’t you worry, have no fear
It’s only Mississippi, over seven hundred miles from here
I’m sure their lives are just the same, for folk like you and me
All your worries will be for nothing, just you wait and see
I’ll give the family your love, and I’ll be a good black boy
Uncle Moses will be glad to see me; it will give him so much joy.
I’ll help him pick some cotton and then play and have some fun
We’ll buy candy in the store, my friends and I under the sun
It couldn’t be so different there, it’s not too far away
And I promise before I sleep at night, I won’t forget to pray
I’ll be home before you know it and you can hold my face as you do
You’ll look into my eyes and say, “My son, I so love you”
Yes, I’ll miss you Mamma, but one day I’ll be a child no more
So just allow me to now grow up, you’ve done your motherly chore
I’ll grow into a better world, a brighter one than you’ve seen
Where colour of skin don’t matter and the white folk aren’t so mean
Things are getting better, those white men hold no grudge
The laws they are a changing, maybe I’ll become a judge
Who knows maybe I will marry and have children of my own
And you will be a grandma, yes maybe when I’ve grown
Can you imagine Mamma, a job, a house and wife?
The times they are now changing, chances of a better life
So off I’ll go tomorrow, I really cannot wait
Now don’t you shed no tears, when you see me to the gate.
It was August 1955 the heat was stifling all around
And me and cousin Wheeler were Mississippi bound
Uncle Moses greeted us and took us to his heart
“Get some rest now boys” he said, tomorrow is an early start
We slept like babies that hot night, tired from our long ride
Cotton picking in the morning, with family by my side
Happy times in those fields, singing songs from our black roots
Lunchtime dips in the warm river, on the banks we’d leave our boots.
I’d sit sometimes and dream and wonder what lay ahead
Then back to eat my supper and early off to bed
I could feel a sense of fear, sometimes amongst the town
But only with us coloured folk, who were coloured black or brown.
I tried to take no heed, but we were looked at when we spoke
Looked at with disgust sometimes, but only by white folk
Sunday we had no work today, our hands were raw and sore
So uncle gave us money to get some candy from the store
The lady served me promptly, I said thank you kindly Miss
I swear I do believe, she blew me a little kiss
When she went to close up shop, she looked so very sad
So I gave a friendly whistle, not meaning any bad
My friends looked on in horror, they said I did a bad thing
But I see no harm in whistles, what trouble could that bring?
They said it ‘isn’t the whistle, it’s who you whistled at
I said “a pretty lady?” what’s the harm in that?
I thought no more about it and went back to Uncle’s house
That night was oh so quiet, you wouldn’t hear a mouse
Then I saw those lights and heard, a motor drawing near
I peered out through the window, the white men were now here
They banged upon the door, shouting “bring out that boy right now”
They said I did some wrong, but I didn’t know quite how
My Uncle tried to stop them, as they dragged me to their truck
I was very scared now Mamma, and was running out of luck
The anger in their eyes and the names they called me too
I didn’t know what I had done, I hadn’t got a clue
I cried, I screamed, I asked what’s wrong, now fearing for my life
One man looked me in the eye and said “You whistled at my wife”.
But what’s the harm in that I cried, tears rolling down my face
“What’s the harm?” the man replied, you, boy must know your place
We drove away and I was scared, I’ll be punished and then let go
But they wouldn’t stop their beatings and the blood began to flow
I’m not a man, I am a boy and this wasn’t one on one
They seemed to enjoy it Mamma, as if they were having fun
They tortured me and lynched me hard, then a gun was shown to me
Surely they wouldn’t shoot me now and maybe set me free
But Mamma, I heard the shot, and a pain came in my head
Oh no I think they’ve killed me, oh Mamma I am dead
They threw me in the river and weighed me down to sink
My lifeless body was gone, oh what now must you think
Three days have now passed by, like the Lord again I’d rise
They took my bloated body out, you couldn’t see my eyes
I want to go home Mamma, perhaps I should have hid
When you put me in my casket, please don’t close the lid
Let people see my face, the pain I did receive
If not my dear poor Mamma, no one sure will believe.
Let our people shout out bravely, let their voices loudly sing,
Show the world I’m only recognised, by wearing Papa’s ring.
They did not have to kill me; a beating would have done
But they carried on, oh Mamma, they killed your only son
I’ve whistled in Chicago where no one said a word
So I’ll whistle now with freedom, just like the young blackbird.
Oh Mamma, I see they caught them now, this has made me glad
The law will tell the world now, that what they did was bad
I’m watching, looking down now, and praying with such hope
Will they be punished Mamma; will they hang them by the rope?
But this jury won’t seek justice, they won’t defend my right
And why I say this Mamma, cause the jury are all white!
That woman knows she’s wrong and told so many lies
Would she have stopped the beating if she had heard my cries?
She sits at home all tired and worn waiting for her man
Then looks upon her mirror, while cooling by the fan
She looks a mess, then thinks, her man just did his duty
But she now must look worthwhile and show him all her beauty
Red lipstick she puts on, the same colour as my blood
Does she feel guilty now? If not she really should
Wiping down her dress and tidying her hair with a comb
God, but all I did was whistle and wanted to go home
I said that I was sorry, I didn’t want no slack
My only crime dear Mamma, my skin was coloured black
So finally I see injustice, they got away with it
Sold their stories for some dollars, which doesn’t seem quite fit
Now newspapers and the TV, show the tale I had to tell
The world seems to be awake now and witness the Southern hell
I hear of a Doctor King, he’s furious with this crime
I hope they don’t kill him too one day, but we will see in time.
One day I hope there’s justice for folk like you and me
When white and black together, live without tyranny
Until that day, I hope, someone will fight my case
Where folk can whistle anywhere, not depending on your race
So until we meet again Mamma, I’ll say goodbye for now
I hope you find some peace, within this crazy world somehow.
© Maria McDonnell
My name is Maria McDonnell and I am fifty- four years old, born and still residing in Finglas Dublin. From an early age I loved writing poetry, however, there were not many chances for me to fulfill my dreams and if I am honest I was too wild and carefree to advance into further education. I travelled for a few years and returned home to have my daughter. After putting her through college, I found myself at a loose end and wanted to explore into further education.
2018, I did a level 5 course and I was informed by an amazing teacher about the Trinity Access Programme. In 2019 I was accepted onto this pathway and successfully completed my year. Now four years later I have nearly completed my third year of this degree in English studies at Trinity College Dublin and I am loving every minute. I am continuing with my poetry, which now has deeper meaning personally and I am finally beginning to be noticed among my peers. My dream is to one day have some of my poetry published within my own book so until then I will continue with my writing and live in hope.