for Deborah Johnson (Akua Njeri)
—Composed on the 45th anniversary of Fred Hampton's murder, Chicago IL—
you didn’t look
down or back, spent
the fractured minutes
studying each crease
and curve of the law-
so later you could tell
how it happened:
how you crossed over
his body, how you kept
your hands up
how you didn't
reach for anything
not your opened robe—
nothing—how they said he's good
how you crossed
over the threshold
how you lifted one
and then the other
slippered foot across the ice
how you kept yourself
your bared belly bore
the revolver’s burrowing snout—
—how when the baby starts
to descend, it’s called
it feels like a weight
you cannot bear—lightening
is when you know
it won't be
long before it's over
Originally published in RHINO. Copyright © 2015 by Deborah Paredez. Used with permission of the author.
Down on Comegys Road, two miles
from the Rifle Club that meets Wednesdays,
summer to fall, firing into a blackness
they call night but I know is a body,
in unpaved Kennedyville, not far
from the Bight, on five acres of green
organic farm, next to the algaed pond
that yields the best fishing in all of Kent County
(my neighbor says it is a lingering death I deal
the trout when he sees me throw the small
bodies back), down where the commonest
cars are tractors and hayfetchers, and men
wave as they pass, briefly bowing a gentleman’s
straw hat, you can find the wood cabin
where I live, infested with stink bugs.
Every day, my boyfriend asks the murder count,
making light of my hatred. Even reading I sit,
swatter poised on the couch’s arm,
all the windows closed, fans off, the whole house
listening for the thwat of stink alighting
smartly on sun-warmed glass, their soft-backed
geometric carapaces calling to be stopped.
I did not grow up like this, here
on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but I am most
at home now I live with something inside to kill.
Copyright @ 2014 by James Allen Hall. Used with permission of the author.
Do not hang your head or clench your fists
when even your friend, after hearing the story,
says: My mother would never put up with that.
Fight the urge to rattle off statistics: that,
more often, a woman who chooses to leave
is then murdered. The hundredth time
your father says, But she hated violence,
why would she marry a guy like that?—
don’t waste your breath explaining, again,
how abusers wait, are patient, that they
don’t beat you on the first date, sometimes
not even the first few years of a marriage.
Keep an impassive face whenever you hear
Stand by Your Man, and let go your rage
when you recall those words were advice
given your mother. Try to forget the first
trial, before she was dead, when the charge
was only attempted murder; don’t belabor
the thinking or the sentence that allowed
her ex-husband’s release a year later, or
the juror who said, It’s a domestic issue—
they should work it out themselves. Just
breathe when, after you read your poems
about grief, a woman asks: Do you think
your mother was weak for men? Learn
to ignore subtext. Imagine a thought-
cloud above your head, dark and heavy
with the words you cannot say; let silence
rain down. Remember you were told
by your famous professor, that you should
write about something else, unburden
yourself of the death of your mother and
just pour your heart out in the poems.
Ask yourself what’s in your heart, that
reliquary—blood locket and seed-bed—and
contend with what it means, the folk-saying
you learned from a Korean poet in Seoul:
that one does not bury the mother’s body
in the ground but in the chest, or—like you—
you carry her corpse on your back.
Copyright © 2016 by Natasha Trethewey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 25, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
It was the summer of Chandra Levy, disappearing from Washington D.C., her lover a Congressman, evasive and blow-dried from Modesto, the TV wondering in every room in America to an image of her tight jeans and piles of curls frozen in a studio pose. It was the summer the only woman known as a serial killer, a ten-dollar whore trolling the plains of central Florida, said she knew she would kill again, murder filled her dreams and if she walked in the world, it would crack her open with its awful wings. It was the summer that in Texas, another young woman killed her five children, left with too many little boys, always pregnant. One Thanksgiving, she tried to slash her own throat. That summer the Congressman lied again about the nature of his relations, or, as he said, he couldn't remember if they had sex that last night he saw her, but there were many anonymous girls that summer, there always are, who lower their necks to the stone and pray, not to God but to the Virgin, herself once a young girl, chosen in her room by an archangel. Instead of praying, that summer I watched television, reruns of a UFO series featuring a melancholic woman detective who had gotten cancer and was made sterile by aliens. I watched infomercials: exercise machines, pasta makers, and a product called Nails Again With Henna, ladies, make your nails steely strong, naturally, and then the photograph of Chandra Levy would appear again, below a bright red number, such as 81, to indicate the days she was missing. Her mother said, please understand how we're feeling when told that the police don't believe she will be found alive, though they searched the parks and forests of the Capitol for the remains and I remembered being caught in Tennessee, my tent filled with wind lifting around me, tornado honey, said the operator when I called in fear. The highway barren, I drove to a truck stop where maybe a hundred trucks hummed in pale, even rows like eggs in a carton. Truckers paced in the dining room, fatigue in their beards, in their bottomless cups of coffee. The store sold handcuffs, dirty magazines, t-shirts that read, Ass, gas or grass. Nobody rides for free, and a bulletin board bore a public notice: Jane Doe, found in a refrigerator box outside Johnson, TN, her slight measurements and weight. The photographs were of her face, not peaceful in death, and of her tattoos Born to Run, and J.T. caught in scrollworks of roses. One winter in Harvard Square, I wandered drunk, my arms full of still warm, stolen laundry, and a man said come to my studio and of course I went— for some girls, our bodies are not immortal so much as expendable, we have punished them or wearied from dragging them around for so long and so we go wearing the brilliant plumage of the possibly freed by death. Quick on the icy sidewalks, I felt thin and fleet, and the night made me feel unique in the eyes of the stranger. He told me he made sculptures of figure skaters, not of the women's bodies, but of the air that whipped around them, a study of negative space, which he said was the where-we-were-not that made us. Dizzy from beer, I thought why not step into that space? He locked the door behind me.
From Rare High Meadow of Which I Might Dream by Connie Voisine. Copyright © 2008 by Connie Voisine. Used by permission of University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.
From Directed by Desire: The Complete Poems of June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005, 2017 by the June Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
This poem is in the public domain.