Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.
Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
I am sick of writing this poem
but bring the boy. his new name
his same old body. ordinary, black
dead thing. bring him & we will mourn
until we forget what we are mourning
& isn’t that what being black is about?
not the joy of it, but the feeling
you get when you are looking
at your child, turn your head,
then, poof, no more child.
that feeling. that’s black.
think: once, a white girl
was kidnapped & that’s the Trojan war.
later, up the block, Troy got shot
& that was Tuesday. are we not worthy
of a city of ash? of 1000 ships
launched because we are missed?
always, something deserves to be burned.
it’s never the right thing now a days.
I demand a war to bring the dead boy back
no matter what his name is this time.
I at least demand a song. a song will do just fine.
look at what the lord has made.
above Missouri, sweet smoke.
Copyright © 2014 by Danez Smith. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
in the backseat, my sons laugh & tussle,
far from Tamir’s age, adorned with his
complexion & cadence, & already warned
about toy pistols, though my rhetoric
ain’t about fear, but dislike—about
how guns have haunted me since I first gripped
a pistol; I think of Tamir, twice-blink
& confront my weeping’s inadequacy, how
some loss invents the geometry that baffles.
The Second Amendment—cold, cruel,
a constitutional violence, a ruthless
thing worrying me still, should be it predicts
the heft in my hand, arm sag, burdened by
what I bear: My bare arms collaged
with wings as if hope alone can bring
back a buried child. A child, a toy gun,
a blue shield’s rapid rapid rabid shit. This
is how misery sounds: my boys
playing in the backseat juxtaposed against
a twelve-year-old’s murder playing
in my head. My tongue cleaves to the roof
of my mouth, my right hand has forgotten.
This is the brick & mortar of the America
that murdered Tamir & may stalk the laughter
in my backseat. I am a father driving
his Black sons to school & the death
of a Black boy rides shotgun & this
could be a funeral procession, the death
a silent thing in the air, unmentioned—
because mentioning death invites taboo:
if you touch my sons the blood washed
away from the concrete must, at some
point, belong to you, & not just to you, to
the artifice of justice that is draped like a blue
g-d around your shoulders, the badge that
justifies the echo of the fired pistol; taboo:
the thing that says freedom is a murderer’s body
mangled & disrupted by my constitutional
rights come to burden, because the killer’s mind
refused the narrative of a brown child, his dignity,
his right to breathe, his actual fucking existence,
with all the crystalline brilliance I saw when
my boys first reached for me. This world best
invite more than story of the children bleeding
on crisp falls days, Tamir’s death must be more
than warning about recklessness & abandoned
justice & white terror’s ghost—& this is
why I hate it all, the protests & their counters,
the Civil Rights attorneys that stalk the bodies
of the murdered, this dance of ours that reduces
humanity to the dichotomy of the veil. We are
not permitted to articulate the reasons we might
yearn to see a man die. A mind may abandon
sanity. What if all I had stomach for was blood?
But history is no sieve & sanity is no elixir
& I am bound to be haunted by the strength
that lets Tamir’s father, mother, kinfolk resist
the temptation to turn everything they see
into a grave & make home the series of cells
that so many brothers already call their tomb.
From Felon. Copyright © 2019 by Reginald Dwayne Betts. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
. As in what if
the shadow is gold
en? Breathe. As in
that. As in first
person singular. Homonym
:. As in subject. As
in centeroftheworld as in
mundane. The opposite of spectacle
spectacular. This is just us
gold in shadows
. You have the
right to breathe and remain
Copyright © 2019 by Rosamond S. King. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
let ruin end here
let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter
let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs
let this be the healing
& if not let it be
From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.
Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer.
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath.
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.
Copyright © 2015 by Jericho Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
You, selling roses out of a silver grocery cart
You, in the park, feeding the pigeons
You cheering for the bees
You with cats in your voice in the morning, feeding cats
You protecting the river You are who I love
delivering babies, nursing the sick
You with henna on your feet and a gold star in your nose
You taking your medicine, reading the magazines
You looking into the faces of young people as they pass, smiling and saying, Alright! which, they know it, means I see you, Family. I love you. Keep on.
You dancing in the kitchen, on the sidewalk, in the subway waiting for the train because Stevie Wonder, Héctor Lavoe, La Lupe
You stirring the pot of beans, you, washing your father’s feet
You are who I love, you
reciting Darwish, then June
Feeding your heart, teaching your parents how to do The Dougie, counting to 10, reading your patients’ charts
You are who I love, changing policies, standing in line for water, stocking the food pantries, making a meal
You are who I love, writing letters, calling the senators, you who, with the seconds of your body (with your time here), arrive on buses, on trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the January streets against the cool and brutal offices, saying: YOUR CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME
You are who I love, you struggling to see
You struggling to love or find a question
You better than me, you kinder and so blistering with anger, you are who I love, standing in the wind, salvaging the umbrellas, graduating from school, wearing holes in your shoes
You are who I love
weeping or touching the faces of the weeping
You, Violeta Parra, grateful for the alphabet, for sound, singing toward us in the dream
You carrying your brother home
You noticing the butterflies
Sharing your water, sharing your potatoes and greens
You who did and did not survive
You who cleaned the kitchens
You who built the railroad tracks and roads
You who replanted the trees, listening to the work of squirrels and birds, you are who I love
You whose blood was taken, whose hands and lives were taken, with or without your saying
Yes, I mean to give. You are who I love.
You who the borders crossed
You whose fires
You decent with rage, so in love with the earth
You writing poems alongside children
You cactus, water, sparrow, crow You, my elder
You are who I love,
summoning the courage, making the cobbler,
getting the blood drawn, sharing the difficult news, you always planting the marigolds, learning to walk wherever you are, learning to read wherever you are, you baking the bread, you come to me in dreams, you kissing the faces of your dead wherever you are, speaking to your children in your mother’s languages, tootsing the birds
You are who I love, behind the library desk, leaving who might kill you, crying with the love songs, polishing your shoes, lighting the candles, getting through the first day despite the whisperers sniping fail fail fail
You are who I love, you who beat and did not beat the odds, you who knows that any good thing you have is the result of someone else’s sacrifice, work, you who fights for reparations
You are who I love, you who stands at the courthouse with the sign that reads NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE
You are who I love, singing Leonard Cohen to the snow, you with glitter on your face, wearing a kilt and violet lipstick
You are who I love, sighing in your sleep
You, playing drums in the procession, you feeding the chickens and humming as you hem the skirt, you sharpening the pencil, you writing the poem about the loneliness of the astronaut
You wanting to listen, you trying to be so still
You are who I love, mothering the dogs, standing with horses
You in brightness and in darkness, throwing your head back as you laugh, kissing your hand
You carrying the berbere from the mill, and the jug of oil pressed from the olives of the trees you belong to
You studying stars, you are who I love
braiding your child’s hair
You are who I love, crossing the desert and trying to cross the desert
You are who I love, working the shifts to buy books, rice, tomatoes,
bathing your children as you listen to the lecture, heating the kitchen with the oven, up early, up late
You are who I love, learning English, learning Spanish, drawing flowers on your hand with a ballpoint pen, taking the bus home
You are who I love, speaking plainly about your pain, sucking your teeth at the airport terminal television every time the politicians say something that offends your sense of decency, of thought, which is often
You are who I love, throwing your hands up in agony or disbelief, shaking your head, arguing back, out loud or inside of yourself, holding close your incredulity which, yes, too, I love I love
your working heart, how each of its gestures, tiny or big, stand beside my own agony, building a forest there
How “Fuck you” becomes a love song
You are who I love, carrying the signs, packing the lunches, with the rain on your face
You at the edges and shores, in the rooms of quiet, in the rooms of shouting, in the airport terminal, at the bus depot saying “No!” and each of us looking out from the gorgeous unlikelihood of our lives at all, finding ourselves here, witnesses to each other’s tenderness, which, this moment, is fury, is rage, which, this moment, is another way of saying: You are who I love You are who I love You and you and you are who
Copyright © 2017 by Aracelis Girmay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
so I count my hopes: the bumblebees
are making a comeback, one snug tight
in a purple flower I passed to get to you;
your favorite color is purple but Prince’s
was orange & we both find this hard to believe;
today the park is green, we take grass for granted
the leaves chuckle around us; behind
your head a butterfly rests on a tree; it’s been
there our whole conversation; by my old apartment
was a butterfly sanctuary where I would read
& two little girls would sit next to me; you caught
a butterfly once but didn’t know what to feed it
so you trapped it in a jar & gave it to a girl
you liked. I asked if it died. you say you like
to think it lived a long life. yes, it lived a long life.
Copyright © 2019 by Fatimah Asghar. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.