Evans D. Hopkins

       Sitting alone at midnight, on the porch of my parents’ home, enchanted by the beauty of the flowering shrubs and trees bathed now in moonglow. The trees have grown to giants in my absence. The image of the six-year-old Evans, watching his landscaper father plant these trees as saplings, prompts the first poem I’ve written in years.
       It is an occasion to contemplate my life, as it is my 43rd birthday–the first I’ve had in freedom for more than 16 years. Here in the country, with the song of cicada and crickets punctuated by the bark of a dog in the distance, this great peace brings to mind what my mother said, only days after my release from prison, six weeks ago:
       Doesn’t seem like you’ve been gone so long, does it?Seems like you’ve just been away on a long trip …
       My parole officer put it another way. “Prison is the crazy place. Out here is what’s normal, so it won’t be hard to fit back in.”
       I read over the poem, and am not quite pleased with it. Still, I rejoice in the effort, a birthday gift from the Muse. Years ago I was a most serious poet, but the verse seemed to dry up, though I suppose some of it has informed my prose. I recall what a literary friend wrote to me about this once: Poetry is based upon beauty; and you’ve very little of that in prison.
       A breeze comes up, and I slide into my tape-player a cassette by songstress Cassandra Wilson, a birthday gift from my sister. My freedom-mood is broken by the lyrics of the second song:

Southern trees
bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
and blood on the root …

        The trees before me take on a more sinister cast, and I relive at once the 16 years of damnation, the life sentence still hanging over my head. An eternity, it would seem, for armed robbery, but not altogether uncommon for men of color in the South.
       I fast-forward the tape to the next song. I have escaped the gallows alive, still able to love. But I must allow time for the rope burns to heal.