Get Up, Or, So Help Me I Will Sharpen Optimism into A Spear: in Four Parts

by Lukas Isenga

       (I) Or, In Lieu of a Preamble
I know your feelings. Take this tonic for our plight:
Gather the blood of the exploded stars and stripe it bright

across your face; transform imprisoned hope into will to fight—

Get up and be ready. We are not yet at twilight
and even should we be, nothing is promised by night
but the chance, while others sleep, to set ourselves aright.

       (II) Or, Now? Then and Now and Then.
November morning: I stepped over her body in the streets, passing.
Many did that day.
Many didn’t,              and carried it to safety.

I remember nothing of the hours before,
only how Dawn gnawed at Night’s back
gouging through until it could scrape enough of a hole in the ribs
to let the blinding orange sun rise with waspish anger.
I felt my own ribs scraped the same, keeping me

from sleep in the last hours of possibility.

But I know that November was warmer, more whole
than the April when the orange dawn
stopped gnawing and began translating:
it says no hablo inglés
means ‘take my children,’
and in quiero una vida mejor,
it hears a sworn confession of a guilt for which
it invents a name.

As a sun has no eyes,
so it never sees the fear
upending understanding of anything
—a falling skywards into an atmosphere with no air or stars or end—
in the pupils of eyes young enough
to put those words together and translate:
I don’t speak your language, but  I want a better life, too.

But soy americano, soy blanco,
so I could afford to keep my eyes Northward and blind.
Hasta que sea demasiado tarde, until belatedly
we become a fact of history.

       (III) Or, Now? Now.
I said I stepped over her body in the streets,
         in November.
By then, she had been ransacked for a collection
in a white-pillared museum:
       They took her crown
       They took her book
       (One August, they brought their own torches, hers was too bright)
       And someone wore the green robes,
repeated words of exclusivity she had said before ella podía hablar con otros,
con todos los Otros del mundo—before she could speak with,
could understand, could see herself in Others.

But we do not listen to these careless words and their new story
(that is really very old),
and we have put the body somewhere safe.
Her skull gleams softly, no color I can name, planted in mahogany earth.

We wait, prepare: Even now, there are flowers growing through her—
Her eyes open into starry blossoms
            the buds shine brighter in the dew
            than a jewel ever could
                        and for history’s sake
                        we’ll braid the green shoots into a crown vibrant and strong
                                   with points in all directions
                                   of the compass rose, that she can wear again, for all the world.
One day soon we’ll stand her up again, taller, so she can watch over us.

And though I say “she,” more apt is “we,”
because we preserve her now.
Because we stepped over her, did not trample her that night
and whatever form she takes, she will be in our story.

We stand beside her, under her, keeping her in sight,
Even though you can see the flowers again,
We have to shade them, guide and water them
And stand beside them.
                                                    And always beside each other.

       (IV) Or, Repetition, but We Choose What: A Thought to Pack before You Go
Now the hardest part about history is remembering it is not quick;
its gait is feeble and will waver if you strike it right;
therein lies the challenge and the trick.

Let us address the elephant in the room: it is sick,
the country. Fear tumors on every body like a blight—
therein lies the challenge and the trick
to control in a vacuum, in a country anemic.
But get up. Prepare to confront, to clash, to fight;
the hardest part about history is remembering it is not quick,

So if we run ahead, the routes are still ours to pick
and with compassion prove our claim beyond colonial birthright.
For therein lies the challenge and the trick,
because there is nothing new to say—what words can make decency click?
I know progress is lost and hopes fade from sight,
but the hardest part about history is remembering it is not quick.

So take words to heart, and there let them stick!
Let our history, our story your pride ignite!
Because therein lies the challenge and the trick—
A grimmer fact of history: that we resign to theirs so quick.

This poem was originally published in SAMPLER 31, a literary publication at Aquinas College.

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