You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time—
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend
Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene
An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.
I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You—
Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.
If I've killed one man, I've killed two—
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
12 October 1962
From The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Used with permission.
Every effort is made to bring the colonised person to admit
the inferiority of his culture...
And there are days when storms hover Over my house, their brooding just this side of rage, An open hand about to slap a face. You won't believe me When I tell you it is not personal. It isn't. It only feels That way because the face is yours. So what if it is the only Face you've got? Listen, a storm will grab the first thing In its path, a Persian cat, a sixth grade boy on his way home From school, an old woman watering her roses, a black Man running down a street (late to a dinner with his wife), A white guy buying cigarettes at the corner store. A storm Will grab a young woman trying to escape her boyfriend, A garbage can, a Mexican busboy with no papers, you. We are all collateral damage for someone's beautiful Ideology, all of us inanimate in the face of the onslaught. My father had the biggest hands I've ever seen. He never Wore a wedding ring. Somehow, it would have looked lost, Misplaced on his thick worker's hands that were, to me, As large as Africa. There have been a good many storms In Africa over the centuries. One was called colonialism (Though I confess to loving Tarzan as a boy). In my thirties, I read a book by Frantz Fanon. I fell in love With the storms in his book even though they broke My heart and made me want to scream. What good Is screaming? Even a bad actress in a horror flick Can do that. In my twenties, I had fallen in love With the storms in the essays of James Baldwin. They were like perfect poems. His friends called Him Jimmy. People didn't think he was beautiful. Oh God, but he was. He could make a hand that was Slapping you into something that was loving, loving you. He could make rage sound elegant. Have you ever Read "Stranger in the Village?" How would you like To feel like a fucking storm every time someone looked At you? One time I was At a party. Some guy asked me: What are you, anyway? I downed my beer. Mexican I said. Really he said, Do You play soccer? No I said but I drink Tequila. He smiled At me, That's cool. I smiled back So what are you? What do you think I am he said. An asshole I said. People Hate you when you're right. Especially if you're Mexican. And every time I leave town, I pray that people will stop Repeating You're from El Paso with that same tone Of voice they use when they see a rat running across Their living rooms, interrupting their second glass Of scotch. My father's dead (Though sometimes I wake And swear he has never been more alive—especially when I see him staring back at me as I shave in the morning). Even though I understand something about hating a man I have never really understood the logic of slavery. What do I know? I don't particularly like the idea of cheap Labor. I don't like guns. And I don't even believe White men are superior. Do you? I wanted to be St. Francis. I took this ambition very seriously. Instead I wound up becoming a middle-aged man who dreams Storms where all the animals wind up dead. It scares Me to think I have this dream inside me. Still, I love dogs—even mean ones. I could forgive A dog that bit me. But if a man bit me, that would be Another story. I have made my peace with cats. I am especially in love with hummingbirds (though They're as mean as roosters in a cock fight). Have You ever seen the storms in the eyes of men who Were betting on a cock fight? Last night, there was hail, thunder, A tornado touching down in the desert—though I was Away and was not a first hand witness. I was in another Place, listening to the waves of the ocean crash against The shore. Sometimes I think the sea is angry. Who Can blame it? There are a million things to be angry About. Have you noticed that some people don't give A damn and just keep on shopping? Doesn't that make you Angry? A storm is like God. You don't have to see it To believe—sometimes you just have to place Your faith in it. When my father walked into a room It felt like that. Like the crashing waves. You know, Like a storm. This is the truth of the matter: I am The son of a storm. Look, every one has to be the son Of something. The thing to do when you are caught In the middle of a storm is to abandon your car, Keep quiet. Pray. Wait. Tell that to the men Who were sleeping on the Arizona when The Japanese dropped their bombs. War is the worst Kind of storm. The truth is I have never met a breathing Human being who did not have at least one scar On his body. Bombs and bullets do more than leave A permanent mark on the skin. I have never liked The expression they were out for blood. There are days When there are so many storms hovering around My house that I cannot even see the blue in the sky. My father loved the sky. He was trying to memorize The clouds before he died. I confess to being Jealous of the sky. On Sunday Mornings I picture Frantz Fanon as an old man. He is looking up At the pure African sky. He is trying to imagine how it appeared Before the white men came. I don't want to dream all the dead Animals we have made extinct. I want to dream a sky Full of hummingbirds. I would like to die in such a storm.
From The Book of What Remains by Benjamin Alire Sáenz . Copyright © 2010 by Benjamin Alire Sáenz . Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.
A man is walking toward me.
He is alone.
He has been walking through the desert.
He has been walking for days.
He has been walking for years.
His lips are dry
like a piece of spent soil.
I can see his open wounds.
His eyes are dark
as a Tanzanian night.
He discovers I have been watching
though he has long ceased to care
what others see. I ask him
his name, ask him what
has brought him here, ask
him to name
his angers and his loves.
He opens his mouth
but just as his words hit
the air, a bullet
pierces his heart.
I do not know
of this man’s birth. I only know
that he is from
the desert. He has the worn
look of despair
that only rainless days can give.
That is all I know.
He might have been born
in Jerusalem. He might have been
born in Egypt. He might
have been the direct descendant
of a pharaoh. His name
might have been Ptolemy.
His name might have been
Moses. Or Jesus.
He might have been a prophet.
He might have been a common thief.
He might have been a terrorist
or he might have been just
another man destined
to be worn down
by the ceaseless, callous storms.
He might have come
from a country called Afghanistan.
He might have been from Mexico.
He might have been
looking for a well.
His dreams were made of water.
His lips touching
that is what he was dreaming.
I can still hear the sound of the bullet.
The man reappears.
It does not matter
that I do not want him
in my dreams. He is
searching through the rubble
of what was once his house.
There are no tears on his
face. His lips still yearn
I wake. I begin to believe
that the man has escaped
from Auschwitz. Perhaps he sinned
against the Nazis or because
he was a collaborator or because
he was Jewish
or because he loved another man.
He has come
to the desert looking
for a place he can call home.
I fall asleep trying
to give the man a name.
The man is now
walking toward a city
that is no longer there.
I am the man.
I see clearly. I am
It is me. It has taken me
a long time to know this.
I am a Palestinian.
I am an Israeli.
I am a Mexican.
I am an American.
I am a busboy in a tall building
that is about to collapse.
I am attending a Seder and I am
tasting my last bitter
herb. I am a boy who has learned
all his prayers. I am bowing
toward Mecca in a house
whose roof will soon collapse
on my small frame.
I am a servant. I shine shoes
and wash the feet
of the rich. I am an illegal.
I am a Mexican who hates all Americans.
I am an American who hates all Mexicans.
I am a Palestinian who hates all Israelis.
I am an Israeli who hates all Palestinians.
I am a Palestinian Jew who hates himself.
I am dying of all this knowledge.
I am dying of thirst.
I am a river that will never know water again.
I am becoming dust.
I am walking toward my home.
Mexico City? Washington?
I don’t know. I don’t know.
I am walking in the desert.
I see that I am reaching a border.
A bullet is piercing my heart.
Used with permission by Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing
In the Kashmir mountains,
my brother shot many men,
blew skulls from brown skins,
dyed white desert sand crimson.
What is there to say to a man
who has traversed such a world,
whose hands and eyes have
Were there flowers there? I asked.
This is what he told me:
In a village, many men
wrapped a woman in a sheet.
She didn't struggle.
Her bare feet dragged in the dirt.
They laid her in the road
and stoned her.
The first man was her father.
He threw two stones in a row.
Her brother had filled his pockets
with stones on the way there.
The crowd was a hive
of disturbed bees. The volley
of stones against her body
drowned out her moans.
Blood burst through the sheet
like a patch of violets,
a hundred roses in bloom.
Copyright © 2012 by Natalie Diaz. From When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon Press, 2012). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
one is hard & the other tried to be
one is fast & the other was faster
one is loud & one is a song
with one note & endless rest
one's whole life is a flash
both spend their life
trying to find a warmth to call home
both spark quite the debate,
some folks want to protect them/some think we should just get rid
of the damn things all together.
Copyright © 2014 by Danez Smith. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
the bullet is his whole life.
his mother named him & the bullet
was on its way. in another life
the bullet was a girl & his skin
was a boy with a sad laugh.
they say he asked for it—
must I define they? they are not
monsters, or hooded or hands black
with cross smoke.
they teachers, they pay tithes
they like rap, they police—good folks
gather around a boy’s body
to take a picture, share a prayer.
oh da horror, oh what a shame
why’d he do that to himself?
they really should stop
getting themselves killed
Copyright © 2015 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
I think a lot of y’all have just been watching Dr. King get beat
up and, ah
vacillating opportunists straining for a note of
militancy and ah
Hold your great buildings on my tiny wing or in my tiny
palm same thing different sling
and then they shot him and uh left him on the front
lawn of everyone’s vulgar delirium
for having been chosen walking home that night
that’ll show you like candy and love
god openly reverse order
A bird gets along beautifully in the air, but once she is on the
ground that special equipment hampers her a great deal.
And Thereby home never gets to be a jaded
Copyright © 2015 by Harmony Holiday. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 22, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
I was born among the bodies. I was hurried
forward, and sealed a thin life for myself.
I have shortened my name, and walk with
a limp. I place pebbles in milk and offer
them to my children when there is nothing
else. We can not live on cold blood alone.
In a dream, I am ungendered, and the moon
is just the moon having a thought of itself.
I am a wolf masked in the scent of its prey
and I am driven—hawk like—to the dark
center of things. I have grasped my eager
heart in my own talons. I am made of fire,
and all fire passes through me. I am made
of smoke and all smoke passes through me.
Now the bodies are just calcified gravity,
built up and broken down over the years.
Somewhere there are phantoms having their
own funerals over and over again. The same
scene for centuries. The same moon rolling
down the gutter of the same sky. Somewhere
they place a door at the beginning of a field
and call it property. Somewhere, a tired man
won’t let go of his dead wife’s hand. God
is a performing artist working only with
light and stone. Death is just a child come to
take us by the hand, and lead us gently away.
Fear is the paralyzing agent, the viper that
swallows us living and whole. And the devil,
wears a crooked badge, multiplies everything
by three. You—my dark friend. And me.
Copyright © 2015 by Cecilia Llompart. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
—W. S. Merwin
A blanket of fresh snow
makes any neighborhood idyllic.
Dearborn Heights indistinguishable from Baldwin Hills,
South Central even—
until a thawing happens and residents emerge
into the light. But it almost never snows in L.A.,
and snows often in this part of Michigan—
a declining wonderland, a place not to stand out
or be stranded like Renisha was.
Imagine a blonde daughter with a busted car
in a suburb where a brown homeowner
(not taking any chances)
blasts through a locked door first,
checks things out after—
around the clock coverage and the country beside itself
instead of the way it is now,
so quiet like a snowy night
and only the grief of a brown family (again)
around the Christmas tree, recalling
memories of Renisha playing
on the front porch, or catching flakes
as they fall and disappear
on her tongue.
They are left to imagine
what her life might have been.
We are left to imagine the day
it won't require imagination
to care about all of the others.
Jupiter means anger. Sun Ra does not. Sun Ra dances the Cake Walk on Saturn’s pulpy eyes. If you believe that, I’ll tell you another one. The first is 13 and the next is 20. They were not good boys but they were boys. They were boys who died for this thing or that. The next was 16 and the last was 18. One had a cell phone. One had a gun. On earth, a goose opens its chest to a sound. The goose takes the bullet this way. A sacrifice denied to the wind since there is no such thing as sacrifice anymore having succumbed to fever and the millennium. The bullet is all consequence. Sun Ra refuses red—long and high, low and deep. His arms are long enough to embrace them.
Copyright © 2016 Ruth Ellen Kocher. Used with permission of the author.
Dead girls don't go the dying route to get known.
You’ll find us anonymous still, splayed in Buicks,
carried swaying like calves, our dead hefts swung
from ankles, wrists, hooked by hands and handed
over to strangers slippery as blackout. Slammed
down, the mud on our dress is black as her dress,
worn out as a throw-rug beneath feet that stomp
out the most intricate weave. It ought not sadden
us, but sober us. Sylvia Plath killed herself. She ate
her sin. Her eye got stuck on a diamond stickpin.
You take Blake over breakfast, only to be bucked
out your skull by a cat-call crossing a parking lot.
Consuming her while reviling her, conditioned to
hate her for her appetite alone: her problem was
she thought too much? Needling an emblem’s ink
onto your wrist, the surest defense a rose to reason
against that bluest vein's insistent wish. Let’s all
us today finger-sweep our cheek-bones with two
blood-marks and ride that terrible train homeward
while looking back at our blackened eyes inside
tiny mirrors fixed inside our plastic compacts. We
could not have known where she began given how
we were, from the start, made to begin where she
ends. In this way, she's no way to make her amends.
The body is the Victory of dreams
when shameless as water
it rises from slumber
its pock marks, its scars
such signs still asleep
its dark olive groves
cool to the hand.
The body is the Defeat of dreams
spread out long and empty
(if you shout, you hear the echo)
with its anemic tiny hairs
unloved by time
hating its own motion
its original black color
when it wakes it clasps its bag
hanging on to pain for hours
in the dust.
The body is the Victory of dreams
when it puts one foot in front of the other
and gains a certain ground.
With a heavy thump.
When the body gains a place
in a town square
like a wolf with a burning snout
it howls, "I want it"
"I can't stand it"
"I threaten—I revolt"
"My baby is hungry."
The body gives birth to justice
and its defense.
The body creates the flower
spits out the death-pit
tumbles over, takes flight
spins motionless around the cesspool
(the world's motion)
in dreams the body triumphs
of finds itself naked in the streets
it loses its teeth
shivers from love
breaks its earth open
like a watermelon
and is done.
From The Scattered Papers of Penelope by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, translated by Karen Van Dyck. Copyright © 2009. Used by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.
My love looks like a girl to-night,
But she is old.
The plaits that lie along her pillow
Are not gold,
But threaded with filigree silver,
And uncanny cold.
She looks like a youth maiden, since her brow
Is smooth and fair,
Her cheeks are very smooth, her eyes are closed.
She sleeps a rare
Still winsome sleep, so still, and so composed.
Nay, but she sleeps like a bride, and dreams her dreams
Of perfect things.
She lies at last, the darling, in the shape of her dream,
And her dead mouth sings
By its shape, like the thrushes in clear evenings.
This poem is in the public domain.
I dig her up and plop her down in a wicker chair.
She’s going to make applesauce and I’m going to get drunk.
She’s cutting worms out of the small green apples from the
and I’m opening a bottle. It erects like a tower
in the city of my mouth.
The way she makes applesauce, it has ragged
strips of skin and spreads thickly over toast.
It’s famous; eating it is as close to God as I’m going to get,
but I don’t tell her. There’s a dishtowel wrapped around her head
to keep her jaw from falling slack—
But I don’t tell her that either. I have to stand at the call box
and see what words I can squeeze in. I’m getting worried.
If I dig her up and put her down in the wicker chair
I’d better be ready for the rest of the family
to make a fuss about it. I’d better bring her back right.
The whole house smells of cinnamon and dust.
We don’t speak. She’s piling up the worms, half-alive
in a silver bowl, she’s throwing them back into the ground
right where her body should be.
Copyright © 2014 by Bianca Stone. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2014.
Even when it’s become a piece of furniture
upholstered in the stiff brocade of rigor mortis,
a corpse blistered with acids into a tapestry,
poked full of holes by bullets, and blurred
by miles of roads, they find it.
They find the body because
there is no where it can go, there is no death
deep or dark enough, no unlit alley bleak enough to hide it.
Even hidden it brings the resurrection to it,
even lying low in the slot of the unmarked grave,
its carnality works like a magnet.
They will find it, haul it leaking and weeping
up from the black suction of the fathomless lake.
The lakes, the woods, the gardens are filled
with its unmentionable perfumes.
The body cannot hide, and there’s no room
for modesty, no provision for rest.
They are dogs and wolves. They will find it.
They will dig it up.
From The Nerve Of It: Poems New and Selected, published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2015 by Lynn Emanuel. Used with permission of the author.
—after New Delhi, after Steubenville
Under the surface of this winter lake,
I can still hear him say you're on thin ice
now, my heel grabbed, dragged into the opaque
murk of moments—woman raped on a bus;
girl plunged into oblivion, taken
on a tour of coaches' homes, local bars,
backseats of cars, the sour godforsaken
expression on each classmate's face; the dark,
the common route home, faint footfalls behind.
How many times have I bloodied my fist
against this frozen expanse to remind
myself there is another side, hope-kissed,
full of breath? I howl. The water begs, drown,
its hand pressing tight, muffling every sound.
Copyright © 2014 by Jennifer Perrine. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
47. I want to make a dark mirror out of writing: one child facing the other, like Dora and little Hans. I want to write, for example, about the violence done to my father’s body as a child. In this re-telling, India is blue, green, black and yellow like the actual, reflective surface of a mercury globe. I pour the mercury into a shallow box to see it: my father’s right leg, linear and hard as the bone it contains, and silver. There are scooped out places where the flesh is missing, shiny, as they would be regardless of race. A scar is memory. Memory is wrong. The wrong face appears in the wrong memory. A face, for example, condenses on the surface of the mirror in the bathroom when I stop writing to wash my face. Hands on the basin, I look up, and see it: the distinct image of an owlgirl. Her eyes protrude, her tongue is sticking out, and she has horns, wings and feet. Talons. I look into her eyes and see his. Writing makes a mirror between the two children who perceive each other. In a physical world, the mirror is a slice of dark space. How do you break a space? No. Tell me a story set in a different time, in a different place. Because I’m scared. I’m scared of the child I’m making.
48. They dragged her from a dark room and put her in a sheet. They broke her legs then re-set them. Both children, the wolfgirls, were given a fine yellow powder to clean their kidneys but their bodies, having adapted to animal ways of excreting meat, could not cope with this technology. Red worms came out of their bodies and the younger girl died. Kamala mourned the death of her sister with, as Joseph wrote, “an affection.” There, in a dark room deep in the Home. Many rooms are dark in India to kill the sun. In Midnapure, I stood in that room, and blinked. When my vision adjusted, I saw a picture of Jesus above a bed, positioned yet dusty on a faded turquoise wall. Many walls in India are turquoise, which is a color the human soul soaks up in an architecture not even knowing it was thirsty. I was thirsty and a girl of about eight, Joseph’s great-granddaughter, brought me tea. I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to focus upon the memory available to me in the room, but there was no experience. When I opened my eyes, I observed Jesus once again, the blood pouring from his open chest, the heart, and onto, it seemed, the floor, in drips.
From Humanimal by Bhanu Kapil. Copyright © 2008 by Bhanu Kapil. Used by permission of Kelsey Street Press. All rights reserved.
As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.
‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.
‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’
But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.
‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.
‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.
‘O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.
‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.
‘O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.
‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.’
It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.
From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.