Aged 94, a powerful totem topples; actor, director, activist,
And exemplar of the Black is beautiful creed in and out;
The great Sidney Poitier dies, taking that elegant name
Across borders that we are yet to understand, while his charting
Of the terrain we should know saw truth shout.
As a Civil Rights crusader, his art proved his first point of protest.
From No Way Out, each new movie signalled his own circumstance;
Bahamian bred, he was actually born in Miami, with his parents there
To sell reared tomatoes we heard the first roar of defiance,
And saw the former British Colony escaped by pure chance.
Then Cry the Beloved Country loudly wept as the apartheid alarm
Pierced soft silence, and his own resolve hardened to use acting
Itself for the good; not for a career, but for the care of his people;
As it was for their representation that he sought to rise and rouse
Neighbourhoods. And while The Blackboard Jungle birthed rock,
And aimed to understand the delinquent, the roll in the music
Saw no moss gained on his path; from Edge of the City’s harsh streets,
To being tied to Tony Curtis on train tracks; each appearance
Was advance and emblem and concentration, too, on the task;
Chiefly to effect change through Art, whether
In the Heat of the Night’s famously retaliatory slap,
Or at that infamous dinner table; from where A Raisin in the Sun
Could be savoured, to A Patch of Blue and the first interracial
Pre-Kirk kiss onscreen, Poitier was that celluloid kisser caught
As he reflected back misted mirrors to cast a burning light
On his era, and like his Mr Tibbs, seek distinctions
Between what Social Injustice is and then means.
If he had done nothing else than these films then we should
Mourn and remember this hero, who made his stance seismic
As he historically rewrote the book. Even Robeson and Belafonte
Had songs with which to enrich their presence.
Poitier had only acting’s traditions to try to denounce
With one look. But he was there with the greats who influenced
Modern culture; activists in art and advances in perspective,
Pain, power, and Politics. From Civil rights to social wrongs,
The list’s endless, as we mourn Dr Martin Luther King,
Rodney also, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, and all those
Who suffered at the hands of the KKK’s gruesome kicks.
As those and other tragic victims were lost in his time,
Poitier’s position proved vanguard, along with the Artists
Who exemplified the profound. From Miles Davis,
John Coltrane, Otis Redding, Sammy and Ossie Davis,
Charlie Parker, Billie Holliday, Little Richard, Chuck Berry,
Nina Simone, and James Brown, to Mingus and Monk,
Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Robert Johnson,
And Hendrix; each of these shared the crown. Cry the Beloved
Country, indeed, for it may it not be the one you now
Live in. Poitier was an actor who exposed on film
Every challenge and taught us all how to be, through his poise,
His regard and the energies unleashed on us, he was
Human nature as nation, as belief released territory.
When trends turned, he changed, using comedy
As his vehicle; last gifts to the public after the former force
Of intent. Politics saw him steer a singular ship for the sailing,
As Bahamian Ambassador to Japan towards the circles
Of diplomacy centred around UNESCO’s need to invent
A more balanced world. Poitier influenced and then
Equalled. He paved a clear way for Pryor, just as he did
For Denzel. For Morgan Freeman, Chadwick Boseman
Ad Samuel Jackson, to today’s equivalents; each nation
Has theirs who compel. But Poitier was the first to claim
Mass attention. I can’t contain in one poem every person
To prize. All I dare do is point towards another star lost
To darkness; as we focus on these bright fires
Who time can never douse, only rise.
David Erdos 1/7/22