acrostic golden shovel
America is loving me to death, loving me to death slowly, and I
Mainly try not to be disappeared here, knowing she won’t pledge
Even tolerance in return. Dear God, I can’t offer allegiance.
Right now, 400 years ago, far into the future―it’s difficult to
Ignore or forgive how despised I am and have been in the
Centuries I’ve been here—despised in the design of the flag
And in the fealty it demands (lest I be made an example of).
In America there’s one winning story—no adaptations. The
Story imagines a noble, grand progress where we’re all united.
Like truths are as self-evident as the Declaration states.
Or like they would be if not for detractors like me, the ranks of
Vagabonds existing to point out what’s rotten in America,
Insisting her gains come at a cost, reminding her who pays, and
Negating wild notions of exceptionalism—adding ugly facts to
God’s-favorite-nation mythology. Look, victors get spoils; I know the
Memories of the vanquished fade away. I hear the enduring republic,
Erect and proud, asking through ravenous teeth Who do you riot for?
Tamir? Sandra? Medgar? George? Breonna? Elijah? Philando? Eric? Which
One? Like it can’t be all of them. Like it can’t be the entirety of it:
Destroyed brown bodies, dismantled homes, so demolition stands
Even as my fidelity falls, as it must. She erases my reason too, allows one
Answer to her only loyalty test: yes or no, Michael, do you love this nation?
Then hates me for saying I can’t, for not burying myself under
Her fables where we’re one, indivisible, free, just, under God, her God.
Copyright © 2020 by Michael Kleber-Diggs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
The train came with a police officer
on his gun. He shifts his weight
against the door. A flash back loads
the first time a service weapon was pulled in my face;
the second time it made me lay on the ground;
the third time it put my hands in the air; the fourth time
it pushed me against a wall; the fifth time
it told me it was just doing its job; the sixth time
it kicked my feet apart; the seventh time
it followed me home; the eighth time it grabbed my shirt collar.
Read the signs: it’s illegal to move
Read the signs; my body knows
how Klan-rally a cop’s gun feels at eye level.
The ninth time the barrel cocked its head;
the tenth time, it told me it missed me
the last time; it said, burning black bodies is a tradition
it was raised on; the eleventh time the safety and trigger argued
through a range of black fiction. I could’ve been
any made-up one of us: Ricky or Wee-Bey
Mad Max or Tray; we all look the same under the right racism
anyway; the twelfth time it dared me to swing; the thirteenth time
I thought about it; the fourteenth time, I almost did it;
the fifteenth time, there were no cellphones; the sixteenth time
just covered badges; the seventeenth time
it searched me for the broken laws it thought I was;
the eighteenth time I assumed the position without anything
Copyright © 2020 by Jive Poetic. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
not as in pin, the kind that keeps the wheels
turning, and not the strip of land that marks
the border between two fields. unrelated
to link, as in chain, or by extension whatever
connects one part to another, and therefore
not a measure of a chain, which in any
case is less than the span of a hand hold-
ing the reins, the rope, the hoe, or taking
something like justice into itself, as when
a captain turned judge and gave it his name.
that was before it lost its balance and crossed
the border, the massed body of undoers
claiming connection, relation, an intimate
right to the prized parts, to the body undone.
* * * *
there was a second another
a white there were two
that night the second an after
thought said one of the papers
the other said when they couldn’t find
the second black in the jail they took
instead the white who’d murdered
his wife because (she said before
she died) she’d refused—
not prejudice the papers
said the hanging of Henry Salzner
proves they were not moved by race
Copyright © 2006 by Martha Collins. From Blue Front (Graywolf Press, 2006). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
For Howard Zinn
who will come to tell us what we know
that the king’s clothes are soiled with
the history of our blood and sweat
who memorializes us when we have been vanquished
who recounts our moments of resistance, explicates
our struggles, sings of our sacrifices to those
unable to hear our song
who speaks of our triumphs, of how we
altered the course of a raging river of oppression
how we turned our love for each other into a
garrison of righteous rebellion
who shows us even in failure, when we
have been less than large, when our own
prejudices have been turned against us like
who walks among us, willing to tell the truth
about the monster of lies, an eclipse that casts
a shadow dark enough to cover centuries
what manner of man, of woman, of truth teller
roots around the muck of history, the word covered
in the mud of denial, the mythology of the conquerors
let them be Zinn, let them sing to the people of history
let their song come slowly, on the periphery of canon
of history departments owned by corporate prevaricators
let their song be sung in small circles, furtive meetings
lonely readers, underground and under siege
their song, the seed crushed to earth, and growing
now a tree, with fruit, multiplying truth.
Copyright © 2014 by Kenneth Carroll. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Angela makes sure the right people die at the funeral.
A grandchild of the Tulsa Massacre, her skin
is artifice, a call to dream so nothing occurs.
When her yt colleague detonates a suicide bomber
she blocks the blast with a casket. It is common knowledge
that womanism does feminism’s housekeeping.
Much as one might travel, one guilt-trips.
In this case, to Re-Reconstruction Era fantasy.
Did I mention that everyone is a cop, and still
someone is trying to tell a story about justice.
Quiet as it’s kept, take something from the blackbox
and a little black ekes out further into the ethos,
but these stories don’t need to matter; they’re made from it.
I find no proxy here in iconography, genomes ache.
“Okonkwo hangs himself in the end” says Angela,
spoiling the final pages of Things Fall Apart.
“Angela won’t die at the end,” I say, to spoil another thing.
Copyright © 2021 by Xan Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 25, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
The weight of ashes
from burned-out camps.
Lodges smoulder in fire,
animal hides wither
their mythic images shrinking
pulling in on themselves,
of breath bone and basket
like wintering frogs.
And no dustbowl wind
Now fertilized by generations—
ashes upon ashes,
this old earth erupts.
Medicine voices rise like mists
white buffalo memories
teeth marks on birch bark
tremble into wholeness.
And the grey weathered stumps,
trees and treaties
trampled for wealth.
Flat Potlatch plateaus
of ghost forests
raked by bears
soften rot inward
until tiny arrows of green
from each crumbling center.
Some will never laugh
Will hide knives
silver as fish in their boots,
as if they could be stolen
as easily as land,
will paper their walls
with maps and broken promises,
scar their flesh
with this badge
heavy as ashes.
And this is a poem
In the womb
of your mother nation
sound like drums
drums like thunder
thunder like twelve thousand
then ten thousand
from stolen homes
from burned out camps
from relatives fallen
as they walked
This is the woodpecker sound
of an old retreat.
It becomes an echo.
to be reconciled.
This is the sound
of trees falling in the woods
when they are heard,
of red nations falling
when they are remembered.
This is the sound
when fist meets flesh
when bullets pop against chests
when memories rattle hollow in stomachs.
And we turn this sound
over and over again
until it becomes
from which we will build
upon the ashes of our ancestors.
Until it becomes
the rattle of a new revolution
drumming on keys.
From Apprenticed to Justice (Salt Publishing, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Kimberly Blaeser. Used with the permission of the author.