The chief heartbreak in To Kill a Mockingbird is the fact that Tom Robinson doesn’t have a chance. He commits the mortal sin of showing kindness to Mayella Ewell, a white woman, and when she accuses him of assault, finds himself stuck in the deathgrip of racism. As Scout says, “Until my father explained it to me later, I did not understand the subtlety of Tom’s predicament: he would not have dared strike a white woman under any circumstances and expect to live long, so he took the first opportunity to run—a sure sign of guilt.”
Even with an airtight defense from Atticus Finch, Tom is doomed from the start. The fact that the jury deliberates at all, in fact, is considered a small victory.
Tom’s most chilling line from the trial is his response to Atticus asking him why he was so afraid: “‘Mr. Finch, if you was a n– like me, you’d be scared, too.’”
While I can’t even begin to understand the enormity of the fear Tom Robinson, George Floyd, and countless other black men and women experience at the hands of an unjust system, I tried to get into Tom’s shoes a little bit, as Atticus would recommend, by exploring some of the emotions suggested in the text. The rondeau form seemed to be appropriate for the cyclical nature of such tragic circumstances. The first couple lines are courtesy of Harper Lee.
Why I Ran
I was scared I’d hafta face up
to all those things I didn’t do, my cup
running over with the poison
of my skin, my first prison,
that songbird torn apart by pups.
With Mayella’s curdle scream, I jumped.
Wouldn’t any black man bolt like a buck,
as they called me? That’s the reason
I was scared.
Mr. Finch spread his life in the gap.
But I can no longer speak, pray, sleep, sup.
My heart won’t dare flicker with brazen
hope. It cracks and boils, fixes to erupt.
Oh, dear God, am I scared.
Try Your Own To Kill a Mockingbird Rondeau
Want to try your own Mockingbird rondeau? We’d love to learn about your own favorite line, phrase, or symbol from the book in the form of this interesting form. Then just drop your poem in the comment box below.
Photo by Christopher Michel, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan.
See more To Kill a Mockingbird Poems
How to Write a Poem contains 3 essential elements I’ve yet to find in one poetry-writing text: generous and informed instruction, dozens of compelling example poems, and rich and plentiful exercises that avoid tricks and gimmicks.
Any poetry-writing teacher would do well to assign this text. Any writer would do well to draft and revise poems based upon these prompts.”
—Nathaniel L. Hansen; Assistant Professor of English & Creative Writing, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor; Director, Windhover Writers’ Festival