Excuses for Not Marching and Then a Poem — by Melissa Fite Johnson

1. Dry throat I must coat with water or I’ll cough.

2. Dog-sitting for a friend so she can march.

3. The angry parent who checked Facebook

to confirm I’m a liberal teacher.


He might find this poem.

It makes me squirm, the thought he could take

my thoughts from my head. My old professor

always says, It’s easier not to write.

Today, it was easier not to lurch

open the garage, turn the key, thrust myself

into history, into the brave crowd

filling their lungs with songs instead of doubt.

My body won’t speck a grainy photograph.


August 28, 1963, a young girl rested

her arm on a rail, her head on her arm. The video

unspools her at “sweltering with the heat of

oppression.” Every phrase was

a lighted match. Each flame passed through her.


January 21, 2017, what words, what fire

I could have carried home like a torch.

~ Melissa Fite Johnson

“3 Excuses for Not Marching and Then a Poem,”appeared on New Verse News.

Melissa Fite Johnson’s first collection, While the Kettle’s On (Little Balkans Press, 2015), won the Nelson Poetry Book Award and is a Kansas Notable Book. She is also the author of A Crooked Door Cut into the Sky, winner of the 2017 Vella Chapbook Award (Paper Nautilus Press, 2018). Her poems have appeared in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Broadsided Press, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. Melissa teaches English and lives with her husband in Kansas. For more, visit melissafitejohnson.com. “Excuses for Not Marching and Then a Poem,” appeared on New Verse News.

Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-09, is winner of the Red Mountain Press Editor’s Choice Award for Shadow Light. Other books are a memoir, The Turtle’s Beating Heart: One Family’s Story of Lenape Survival (U. of Nebraska Press) and A Casino Bestiary: Poems (Spartan Press). Jackalope, fiction, was acclaimed by Pennyless (U.K.), American Book Review, and New Letters. She has won 3 Ks. Notable Book Awards and recognition from PSA, Roberts Foundation, Lichtor Award, NEH, and more. Low has an MFA (Wichita State U.) and Ph.D. (Ks.U.). She teaches for Baker University’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies. www.deniselow.net


2 thoughts on “Excuses for Not Marching and Then a Poem — by Melissa Fite Johnson

  1. What a great poem! It’s interesting that people think all teachers are labeled “liberal.” It’s probably true of all of us to an extent. I understand why you didn’t march. I had a good excuse–I was recovering from a stroke 🙂 I probably wouldn ‘t have marched anyway. It was too cold.

    • Thank you for your comment! I’m so sorry about your stroke. My father had two major strokes when I was six. Hope you’re doing well these days. Also, I now teach at a much more progressive school where they’d be happy if I marched, so that’s good.

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