A website stutters numbers
about my town sheepishly
pushing them all the way
to the bottom

The percentage of residents living in poverty—8.5%
Then the parentheses:
(6% for white residents)
(9.6% for Hispanic residents)
(14.3% for Black residents)

I wonder why it is only the poverty statistic
that mentions race
Then I remember everything is about money
That in this cushy suburb racial bias loves to glare
back at you from the inside of a wallet

In this chunk of non-city
the people are proud
of their diversity
Even as the achievement
gap at my high school
glares at them

Back when the Chicago Tribune covered
the 1919 Chicago riots
they were overshadowed
by the streetcar strike which
inconvenienced white
people who had to find
other ways to get to work
I bet no Oak Park wife
looked toward the lake
and saw Black bodies

I wonder how many of their
children have done anything
other than cast problems under bottom lips
letting injustice sit with stale breath
Their “hate has no home here” lawn signs
resting in freshly trimmed grass
I can feel them eyeing me
questioning if I belong here
as I walk past

I think about pulling all the signs out
Telling my neighbors to learn their own statistics
Will they see me in parentheses?

A part of me hopes they don‘t
Is this why I straighten my hair
for every school picture?
So for those few minutes before class,
a teacher may see me as something
other than Latina
Is Oak Park the cut lawn
and the sign planted in it
or white women
standing proud behind their liberal yard signs?

Where does it fit in a world that would rather focus
on anything but the problems across the street?

I just hope that when Oak Park makes its choice
it will say it without muttering

Copyright © Kyla Pereles. This poem originally appeared in Respect the Mic: Celebrating 20 Years of Poetry from a Chicagoland High School (Penguin, 2022). Used with permission of the author.

For all we knew, there was no such thing as wealth
management internships sponsored by a father’s
Harvard roommate, or else some Fifth Avenue gig
running iced coffee for fashionistas an hour’s ride away
from where we stood, the darkest thing for miles,

trash collection claws extending from our sleeves
like some late 80’s cyborg fantasy. We were bored
out of our brains, unlettered, sharp enough still
to know our place in the grander proletarian scheme:
a pair of scholarship kids paid to maintain campus

while our peers tried their hands at college physics,
American industry, psychedelics and road trips
to the mid-west with friends, all while Devin and I
stood in our standard-issue jumpsuits, adding another
coat of white paint to the cafeteria walls without irony.

There were no small iron gods in our pockets then;
no machines to thread us into the invisible world, and so
we passed entire mornings listening to the ceremonies
of birds we couldn’t name as we traversed the sides
of the high-way, each step perfecting our soon-to-be

flawless technique, dodging carrion, dividing paper waste
from condoms and bottles of Coors, just the way Jay taught
us our first day on-call. I spent most breaks in the rift
between observation and dreams, pulling music from the filthy
tales each older man on the maintenance crew cast like a cure

into the mind of the other. Folklore filling the desolate
lecture halls where we took lunch, laughing as we traded
one tradition for another. No future worth claiming apart
from that broken boiler in the next building, blackbirds
trapped in the gutter-way, getting pipes fixed before fall.

From Owed (Penguin Poets, 2020). Copyright © 2020 Joshua Bennett. Used with permission of the author and Penguin Random House.

(for Uvalde, et al.)

in the neighbors’ churches the culture has
a strict cante ostinado of mass

shootings untimed to get over kind
of repetitive grief as beat   vamp   line

of strung out hearses down   a street down
a got it run   up in   which being wound

into and around this getting even
going on       revenges over to death its keen.     

the culture always has it in the neighbors’—
not ours—   itself a kind of hood   that labors

not to any good   understanding      klan—
observance understood as separation   plan

of identity rather than facing
your own is my own   not mine to own   this.

grieving.     of which no dishing out can exist
when it is only one pool to be traced in.  

not just one in the calibration
but them all capable any one

of them—      full   emotion all who’re there
have as the pool grief has   brought here.

it is the water’s looking ink over itself
in hand   writing the called of its face from the cliff

it is    of the land. its water    of tears its culture
from here    such thing as next neighbor    is a future.

when we say   what goes ‘round    comes around—
this is it—      the autochthonous   future

found in the strung out hearse down we have   down.
rehearsed to continuity.     the faced sure

as shit      or called as face it all comes down to—
grief.        the body

develops in continuity after a while
the jar   the hit   the disturbances line up

their toppling losses   dissipated in as if
in the lilting distraction of the next

ongoing      they develop a rocking sway
the lilting sails    on the rolling triplet of swells

in an ocean of     music—     and a grand horizon
spills                 a windy vibration-less melody

of counterpoint   human instrument longs out
its yearning persistence of survival      the grand

balance of the dances on    the tossing decks
the elegant up and down   the dress designed

to drape the thrown shape a hand   around the breaking
hip   the hit   into that somnambulant silence after song.   

of death.      that all time most popular going on
going on with it      until something comes of it

its cante ostinado   vamp of the one string   hashished-
out caravan driver singing to— 
                    god itself of—    empty horizon.

Copyright © 2022 by Ed Roberson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 5, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

The gun—purchased legally
by our parents when I was ten,

shown to us, placed in our hands
that we might sense the weight, then placed

on a shelf any of us
could reach, though we did not, not yet—

pulled by our mother six years
later as I straddled her son’s

small body to stop his fists
from battering me—our mother,

misreading the scene, seeing
her youngest in danger, and me,

too large in her mind to be
handled any other way— our

mother holding the gun and
shaking the gun and crying, caught

in an act of betrayal,
not yet angry that I would run,

sock clad, to Sam’s Pitt Stop Fried
Chicken and Fish to tell Sam Pitt,

my boss from the last summer
to tell him with incredulity—

no, with something more naïve,
say, shock or hurt, that my mother

had just pulled a gun on me,
the good child, the obedient

child, and she, later, saying
she had no other choice

she had to save her boy,
the malt liquor on her breath,
the blue bull in her blood, remorse,

perhaps, in her voice as she
asked, without asking, for forgiveness,

the gun returned to the shelf.

Originally published in Tin House (18.4, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Donika Kelly. Used with the permission of the poet.

At a rooftop party, you dance near every edge. 
Someone drops a ring in glass, in your head 
the clink of a used bullet, still hot, and that fast 
the rooftop is covered with wires, riflemen, 
and you’re thinking about mutiny, MK-47s, 
two cities clawing at each other’s bruised 
throats while boys try to hold your hips, 
keep dancing. The war is on your hips. 
Your hands. You wear it all over. You wrap 
your hair in it. Pluck it from your eyebrows. 
The rooftop is wide and caring, too rained 
or sometimes incensed, and you never once 
think to be afraid of what could arrow a cloud 
and kill it. You eat volcano rolls, pink pepper 
goat cheese, and the war enters you. You stare 
at Still Life with Flowers and Fruit 
and the glade of roses scream 
war. Here with a doctor and your pregnant 
aunt who hasn’t yet learned English, only speaks 
in war. Friends in Greensboro get picked up 
by bored police, get beat up for no reason, 
and those fists carry war. At a job interview, 
you carve yourself into a white-known shape
and that renaming is a kind of war. 
You take a passport photo, told to smile 
without teeth, the flash a bright war. 
You’re on the other side of mercy
with your meadows and fluffed spillage,
where nights are creamed with saviors. 
Here everyone rests on roofs graduated 
and sung, gazing at a sky that won’t 
bleed them. At the beach, you’re buried 
to the neck, practicing dead, snug in your 
chosen tomb, gulls flittering on all sides, 
waves fleshing closer, and that fast you’re thinking 
of a grubby desert girl who placed small stones 
in her scarf, shook it back and forth,
said, This is what the sea must sound like. 

from The Wild Fox of Yemen (Graywolf Press, 2021). Copyright © 2021 by Threa Almontaser. Used with permission of the author.