For He Was a Great Man

Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate Emeritus

– for George Floyd, RIP
For he was a great man thrown & pulled toward the flames
For the flames were familiar for they would seal his story
For he was taken down face down body down to account
For his soul stood up & noticed the chariot song descending
For he pleaded as the fiery metals coiled upon his ebony skin
For he was our Renaissance our thirst our vessel for Freedom
For they said he was our father our son our symbol our body
For a choir assembled in the streets in every furnace of witness
For he called upon his mother as he called upon the Source
For he was not your Negro he was not your Black cut down
For he was the ancestral ship burning through waves & chains
For he was the future no one had prophesied the Now & the Is
For he was the One to peer fast into the eye of the slaughtered
For he was the roar of the circle a corner striping the brutality
For he was taken in the evening & we noticed the power remain
Juan Felipe Herrera is the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States (2015-2016) and is the first Latino to hold the position. From 2012-2014, Herrera served as California State Poet Laureate. Herrera’s many collections of poetry include Notes on the Assemblage; Senegal Taxi; Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, a recipient of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971-2007. He is also the author of Crashboomlove: A Novel in Verse, which received the Americas Award. His books of prose for children include: SkateFate, Calling the Doves, which won the Ezra Jack Keats Award; Upside Down Boy, which was adapted into a musical for young audiences in New York City; and Cinnamon Girl: Letters Found Inside a Cereal Box. His book, Jabberwalking, a children’s book focused on turning your wonder at the world around you into weird, wild, incandescent poetry, came out in 2018. His most recent book is Every Day We Get More ILLegal (City Lights Publishers).