Tom Lee statue

Saving, Sacrificing and Sailing: A Tom Lee Poem

Saving, Sacrificing and Sailing
By Jeanine Jones

No walking on water or calming the sea
Though, like the savior, he stretched his hands to thee

Those drowning about the cold, murky, muddy, Mississippi
On a spring day in Memphis, in May
From the “Zev”, his work boat
he kept them afloat 
Reaching, reaching, reaching 
Stretching, stretching, stretching
Pulling, pulling, pulling them in, one by one, calmly
Saving, sacrificing and sailing 
Saving man, after man, after woman
32 total they say

“A Worthy Negro” is what they called him after rescuing them
Even though he couldn’t swim he risked his life
Sacrificing to save them
The “Norman” capsizing, overturning in the water didn’t steer him away
This heroic act of a non-swimmer 
Sailing through turbulent tides of the Mighty MS
Mastering the captivating currents sway

Just as the high waters and winds washed his first monument marker away
chartering the waters he quickly encouraged, inspired and reassured delivering
shocked, shivering, fallen passengers to destination safety
Retrieved from the river by a simple, extraordinary, bashful, brave, courageous and calm 

Three monuments honoring him still sit
A gifted home from the Engineers Club in north Memphis on Mansfield Street
Here to stay, the most worthy one, the life-like figure one, sits at Tom Lee Park
life-sized, bravery in bronze, bronze beauty by the riverside 
Then, his final resting place, Mt. Carmel Cemetery
These landmarks embark his life, his legacy 

This noteworthy Negro’s nautical navigation commanded the waters 
Sailing passengers to safety
This noteworthy Negro
Tom Lee

Jeanine Jones is a small P.E.A. (Poet, Educator, Author) in a big pot, packing a lot of flavor.  She loves the arts and uses poetry as her gel to make literacy stick. She has written five books and plays, including We Can All Decorate the Same Tree.

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