Basil King

The Green Man Comes to 4th Street (4)

Two boys
I knew them
We were in the same
History class
Were walking towards me
I heard one of them say
“Here comes that uppity Kike”

They were afraid
Of me
And me
Of them


I tried to walk around them
But they blocked me
“Where do you think you’re going?
JEW boy”


I got hit
I hit back
And got wrestled to the ground

One of the boys had
An open penknife
He raised it
And brought it down
Just below the wrist
Of my right hand


This incident took place 73 years ago
When I was ten years old and now the scar
Is almost invisible

They were afraid
Of me
And me
Of them
I can’t remember
What I told my parents


Fright covered their faces
And they ran
Fortunately the wound wasn’t deep
And there wasn’t a lot of blood
I tied my hand into a handkerchief
And walked home

I was ashamed
I wanted to hide
There was fear
In the field
That day


That day
My shame
Was not alone

I recognize
The Green Man
Of marrow
Of possessed

My father knew tool and dye
And was conscripted during the
Second World War
To make Bomb Heads


There never was a central location
For the manufacture of
Bomb Heads
The Bomb Heads were made in shops
In towns scattered across England
Scotland and Wales

My father would come home
“Esther start packing”
Sometimes six weeks
Sometimes months
Between the moves

Given little notice
The worker’s
Families moved
To towns where
They rented rooms
Of disappointment
Of possessions


I didn’t go to school
My mother schooled me
But there were movies
I remember the movies


I don’t remember the town
But I remember the landlady
Telling my mother
Her tenants have complained
They don’t want Jews
Living in the building
She has no other choice
But to have us vacate
The premises

I was 5 years old
And I remember
The landlady
She had no shame
She looked justified


I remember my mother
Said nothing she packed
Our bags and waited
Till my father came home

My mother took me to a hotel
And if I remember correctly
My father sat all night
On the sidewalk with our


My father’s father
Was an Orthodox Jew
And I suspect he had
Socialist beliefs
He insisted that no one
Should own property

He would have food
Taken off of the table
And have one of his children
Take it to a home
Where he’d heard
There was a shortage
Of food

In the First World War
He hid Jewish soldier
Who went AWOL
One of the soldiers
That the family hid
Was the poet Isaac Rosenberg


Today we bought
A strange
Colored Rose
She is my grandmother
The one I never knew
The one who said
Her father came from
Did he paint?
Did he draw lines?
A return


I was born a Jew
And I will die a Jew
This is my genesis my heritage
But not my belonging
I attend to
That I do not belong
That I do not always understand
What I am doing
Until after I have done it

I fear corruption
I fear greed
I fear I will
Go without

I live
I live with
I love


The bed I sleep in
With Martha
Is ours
The key
To the front door
Is ours
Our children
Come to our
And their children
Come to our

And when
The Green Man
Come to 4th Street
I come to our house

Basil King (b. 1935, London) is an American painter and writer, associated with Black Mountain College, where he was a student as a teenager. In 2012, Skylight Press published his Learning To Draw/A History and Nicole Peyrafitte and Miles Joris-Peyrafitte released a documentary on his life, Basil King: Mirage. He has published over ten books of poetry and illustrated 68 books of his own poetry and those of poet colleagues. “The Green Man Comes to 4th Street” comprises seven numbered poems; the above “(4)” is one of them.