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"Tombs" by Richard W. Thomas

Published in the September 1969 issue of Negro Digest/Black World, ‘Tombs’ by Richard Walter Thomas, a Black radical poet, came off the heels of a Civil Rights Movement experiencing considerable turmoil. Malcolm X had been assassinated in 1965. The Black Panther Party was then founded in ‘66. Detroit later went up in flames in July ‘67. Shortly after, MLK Jr. was assassinated in ‘68, stirring the entire country–over 100 cities–into upheaval. Black Power as a political movement was more actively entering the stage, partially displacing the more established liberal civil rights struggle. ‘Tombs’ was written in light of that unrest. 

Tombs by Richard W. Thomas

There are reasons

why we burn          our tombs.

                       Tombs you 

rent to us

for the sun

of the apple of

our labor


that stuff of our sweat, vaporized.

Hip Holy Communion?

                                          From              your

elevated soundproof gardens,

where silence roars,                   and

pretty smiles live in

exile on some island

in the face.                 Tombs,


you hired us into;            colonies

of fast young                  sweet

black things

eyeing you approaching

in huge hunting boots,                   cradling


The Iron Ritual. A bag

of dirty coins, slayer of their



While drop by drop

the acid of your noiseless

devices burns down to

bone whiteness, our skulls.


We cannot feel ourselves.

Gone dead inside, the wires

twist and snap.       We


Go out. Black swells the space

where farmers used the hope,

Sun, Rain, the slanted hill

of Bones of pretty Black


Things gone up in smoke

(They could always dance on air.)


visit           the tombs


only when our revolting 


disturb the floating cherries

in your cocktails.



you milk,

fattening mental hogs

eating your eyeballs.


But, from our burning tombs,

we catch a quick glance

of a                                                     Horizon

our tombs had




So, like tombs,

at the edge of walls

bordering your soundproof gardens.


Through hundred years thick

plate glass

on your torture rack, we gesture.


Our faces turn into insults

by their motions and play on

words, by their weapons.


Forced underground, we tug

at nerve endings dangling from

surfaces patrolled

by Christ figures who


Pack their hills in their watch



                                  We sang

the song of tombs:   clapping tombs,

hurling, spitting tombs,

dying tombs, cussing tombs (shooting tombs)


                                                Drops of

tombs pouring out our bodies,

in search of the central orbit

held captive in a dream when

the dreamers copped out.


Piles of tombs

leaping at the

sun’s exposed white neck (but it

was at night and the moon got

in the way)



        growing,                                  until


only a small ray

of evening sunlight

which had gathered stuff


from our songs,

stumbling, cussin’ and carryin’ on

blowing puffs of poisonous energies

into the eyeballs

            of the defenders,


your cracked

              soundproof garden walls

and with our tombs’ screams

             Sank your floating cherry!