The dead man mattered, the new life mattered
— James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son”
George Floyd’s funeral train departed from Minneapolis
It was June of 2020 — mourners lined the tracks
The tears of the onlookers watered the embankments
and from that salty soil grew wiry tough roses
His train passed through Milwaukee slower than slow
so people could walk beside him on his way
Chicago’s Union Station was draped in black bunting
The car his casket rode in was called the Philando Castile
because like George Floyd, Philando died in the Twin Cities.
George Floyd’s funeral train must have taken a roundabout route
on its way to Houston to bury him
it was heard passing through Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York
through Ferguson, Missouri, and Sanford, Florida
it would be impossible to list every town in which it was heard
passing by in the American night.
Beside the tracks, the people could hear music being played on board the train
Louis Armstrong singing “Black and Blue”
John Coltrane proclaiming “A Love Supreme”
Roland Kirk who could play without stopping for breath
because his playing was his breathing, and all the time,
in the memory of George, Roland Kirk breathed and he played.
So many were on board, so many were to be remembered
that the news of the train’s passing, and why it was passing,
and for whom, could never finish being told
as long as America still had a story. People said
that Tamir Rice got his wish: to ride in the cab with the Engineer —
the Conductor said he could, and no one ever contradicted her
sternly the Engineer ordered him not to be afraid
and Tamir knew better than to disobey her
so they rode forward day and night, refusing fear,
toward the America to come.