"...paid for at a price which literally staggers humanity. Imperialism, the exploitation of colored labor throughout the world, thrives upon the approval of the United States, and the United States gives that approval because of the South." —W. E. B. Du Bois The third question in Spanish class is: De donde eres tu? She'd come for brand-new words: las flores rojas, el puente. To have words like crema de leche on her tongue at least for a few weeks before tasting the bitter syllables of their history. How to begin with the young woman next to her asking: Where? Young enough to be her daughter but— The place where you were one of five half-naked children playing in the dirt under a porch. There was a yellow dog. The place where I was a white girl sitting in a dusty car with the window rolled down, looking at you. No word to share. That place. That place. She says, Del Sur. The girl replies: We moved up here when I was eight. Until last year every dream I had happened there. I take my daughter down to see my aunts. She's four. Back home she can take her shoes off. The ground's not strewn with glass, like here. The dirt's clean, at least. Do you have folks, back home? From class to home she tries out her lessons. At the bus stop bench, she sat next to a man who hated spring, its thunderhead clouds, its green- leafed rain. At home, he said, there was only sun. In the north in Chile, rain was somewhere else, not falling everywhere like sadness here. He'd not been back in twenty years. There was him, and the man who hated the cold and the brick factory and the one room with fifteen people he couldn't remember. He began to walk back to Guatemala. Police picked him up in Texas. No soles to the bottom of his shoes. Police stopped him in Mexico. Three thousand miles in four months. He'd done it before. His compass was walk south, toward warmth, you come to home before the war. At home there was a dirt track by the paved road, worn down through pink sundrops and fox grass, an emphatic sentence written by people walking north to work. Books called it The Great Migration, but people are not birds. They have in common only flight. Now, in the city night, they dream they're caught in a cloud of dust and grit, looking down at land being shoveled, furrowed, or burned by huge machines. In the daylight they stand in line at the post office and buy money orders to send home. Beatrice is there to collect a package from her mother. This time she's sent onions grown in sandy soil. She says they are sweeter than apples, that one will feed a crowd, that they have no bitterness. At home their neighbor said: I can tell any county I'm in just by smelling the dirt. Beatrice puts aside five onion globes shining yellow as lamplight, like the old kerosene lamp they set in the kitchen for emergencies. She'll give them to the woman who sits by her in Spanish class, the one young as a daughter, the one she'd never have known at home.
From Walking Back Up Depot Street, copyright © 1999 by Minnie Bruce Pratt. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
I'm not a singer, but please
let me sing of the peacemakers
on the streets and internet, your candles
in this darkest moment of night,
your bodies on the steps of government buildings,
your voices from the roots of grasses and trees,
from your pit of conscience.
I'm not a prayer, but please,
please give my voice to the children
in Baghdad, Basra, Afghanistan,
and every other bombed-out place on earth,
your crying out in pain and fear;
please give my hands to the mothers
raking through rubble for food, bodies;
my sight to the cities and fields in smoke;
my tears to the men and women who are brought
home in bags; and please give my ears
to those who refuse to hear the explosions,
who tune only to censored news, official words.
I'm not a citizen, but please
count my vote against the belief
that the American way is the only way,
count it against the blasphemy of freedom,
against a gang of thugs who donned crowns
on their own heads, who live for power
and power only, whose only route is
to deceive and loot, whose mouths move
only to crush, whose hands close
only into a grave.
I'm not a worshiper, but please
accept my faith in those
who refuse to believe in painted lies,
refuse to join this chorus of supreme hypocrisy,
refuse to sell out, to let their conscience sleep,
wither, die. Please accept my faith
in those who cross the bridge for peace,
only to be cursed and spat upon, but keep crossing
anyway, every Wednesday, in rain and snow,
and my faith in those who camp out night after night,
your blood thawing the frozen ground,
your tents flowers of hope in this bleak age.
I don't possess a bomb, don't know
how to shoot or thrust a sword.
All I have is a broken voice,
a heart immense with sorrow.
But please, please take them,
let them be part of this tsunami
of chanting, this chant of awakening.
Copyright © 2003 by Wang Ping. From The Magic Whip (Coffee House Press, 2003). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Paintball pellets batter shoulders
and thighs at 190 miles per hour
I count the purplish bruises and
smile at the post vision of us toasting
laughing, being vibrantly alive
The woman who pierced my nose
Rushed outside afterwards for a cigarette
Whether my nostril or her nerves were to blame
We both survived an ordeal that day
I don’t think of the sweat on her lip
or the tears on my cheek when my jeweled
Black nose disrupts canonical spaces
Agony delineates child bearing from child rearing
Pain is the anticipated toll: the impossible stretch of skin and orifice,
wrenching of organs, the pinch and nip of nursing
I received no pamphlets about the pangs of panic and impotence
The deep marrow rupture when their ache explodes beyond your reach
A formation of police fired rubber bullets at my child
200 feet per second in defense of hatred and spiteful ignorance
She raged back in protest until her throat rasped, her heels
blistered and she shattered into sobs once safe in our home, in my arms
They gassed and maced my baby. She marched again the next day.
And the next and the next and the next and the next
Hope is a bruise, a nervous smoke and an unrelenting calvary
Copyright © 2021 by Dasha Kelly Hamilton. This poem originally appeared in Wisconsin People & Ideas Magazine, January 2021. Used with permission of the author.
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
From The Language of Spring, edited by Robert Atwan, published by Beacon Press, 2003.
startling semiannual saccharine sensitivity to sentencing in a season of severing and severances to so called civil servants of streachery and separation i sense a series of spectators or investigators wont save us like stolen generators nothing speculative about spectacles we beasts spit and sputter spits and sputters splitting sutures of your occipital up your occidental skeptical of this spectacular softness of this plexus flex i choose the best for myself swearing the swivel of the stank of spangled smear with speared wet spirit spent to coalesce in this nonsense that’s the thing about your language is i make it sound so good it doesnt have to make sense they is all what you is where you from someone tell these oxymorons we is dual citizens former resident aliensss and we have only just begun counting down this society’s days with the efficiency of arabic numerals
Copyright © 2019 by Marwa Helal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 24, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.