Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.
Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
This poem is in the public domain.
The border is a line that birds cannot see.
The border is a beautiful piece of paper folded carelessly in half.
The border is where flint first met steel, starting a century of fires.
The border is a belt that is too tight, holding things up but making it hard to breathe.
The border is a rusted hinge that does not bend.
The border is the blood clot in the river’s vein.
The border says stop to the wind, but the wind speaks another language, and keeps going.
The border is a brand, the “Double-X” of barbed wire scarred into the skin of so many.
The border has always been a welcome stopping place but is now a stop sign, always red.
The border is a jump rope still there even after the game is finished.
The border is a real crack in an imaginary dam.
The border used to be an actual place, but now, it is the act of a thousand imaginations.
The border, the word border, sounds like order, but in this place they do not rhyme.
The border is a handshake that becomes a squeezing contest.
The border smells like cars at noon and wood smoke in the evening.
The border is the place between the two pages in a book where the spine is bent too far.
The border is two men in love with the same woman.
The border is an equation in search of an equals sign.
The border is the location of the factory where lightning and thunder are made.
The border is “NoNo” The Clown, who can’t make anyone laugh.
The border is a locked door that has been promoted.
The border is a moat but without a castle on either side.
The border has become Checkpoint Chale.
The border is a place of plans constantly broken and repaired and broken.
The border is mighty, but even the parting of the seas created a path, not a barrier.
The border is a big, neat, clean, clear black line on a map that does not exist.
The border is the line in new bifocals: below, small things get bigger; above, nothing changes.
The border is a skunk with a white line down its back.
Copyright © 2015 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author.
after Yusef Komunyakaa
My black face fades,
hiding inside black smoke.
I knew they'd use it,
dammit: tear gas.
I'm grown. I'm fresh.
Their clouded assumption eyes me
like a runaway, guilty as night,
chasing morning. I run
this way—the street lets me go.
I turn that way—I'm inside
the back of a police van
again, depending on my attitude
to be the difference.
I run down the signs
half-expecting to find
my name protesting in ink.
I touch the name Freddie Gray;
I see the beat cop's worn eyes.
Names stretch across the people’s banner
but when they walk away
the names fall from our lips.
Paparazzi flash. Call it riot.
The ground. A body on the ground.
A white cop’s image hovers
over us, then his blank gaze
looks through mine. I’m a broken window.
He’s raised his right arm
a gun in his hand. In the black smoke
a drone tracking targets:
No, a crow gasping for air.
Copyright © 2018 by Amanda Johnston. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
of whiteness and the horn of plenty, if it is even a horn; if there is such a thing if destruction is ceaseless; if my son’s hand reaches for a cotton blanket or a cat’s tail, if we have our eyes on him, if I describe his hand as pillowy; if the world is a tower of breakable plates for the white son, if he is unaware of the supernatural- seeming inventions that sustain white hunger; if Hades has its own horn made of ivory for drinking; if hunger tightens the guts of others; if it is described as inevitable or accidental; if the description is written by the same hunger; if he is just a boy asking about justice at the mall; if his father and I cannot help but love his locomotive of curiosity, its erratic perpetuity, shark, shots, Mars, if we wonder how it will end; if zoo doctor, if astronomer, if madman; if we speak of the white shark, if they are nearly missing, if the bleaching of coral; if the four of us trudge upstairs at bedtime single file making train sounds are we acting as a tribe; if we fear the world; if four feels a tribe; if our son assigns himself the role of conductor; if his sister laughs, cheek against my shoulder; if I carry her body carefully like her body were glass, a white object; if tired from school, my son dreams of cities lit up and falling, fireflies collapsing, bees and honey; if at school he traces letters with happy concentration; if, using a push pin to punch out the shapes of continents he asks his teacher why he cannot punch out the ocean, why just continents, why can’t he pin-punch the ocean; if at school he pours water from a red pitcher into a bowl, spills some, threads yarn through a card; if twice yearly there is the interruption of a lockdown drill, the crackling loudspeaker, if his teacher asks anyone who is afraid to raise their hand, if she says This is for the wild animal who may at any moment enter
Copyright © 2018 Alison Powell. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, Fall-Winter 2017.
My son’s head is a fist
rapping against the door of the world.
For now, it’s dressers, kitchen islands,
dining room tables that coax his clumsy, creating
small molehills of hurt breaching
the surface. The ice pack,
a cold kiss to lessen the blow equals
a frigid intrusion, a boy cannot be a boy
with all this mothering getting in the way.
Sometimes the floor plays accomplice
snagging an ankle, elbow, top lip to swell.
Other times it’s a tantrum, when he spills his limbs
onto the hardwood, frenzied then limp with anger,
tongue clotted with frustration,
a splay of 2 year-old emotion voiced in one winding wail.
My son cannot continue this path.
Black boys can’t lose control at 21, 30, even 45.
They don’t get do-overs.
So I let him flail about now,
let him run headfirst into the wall
learn how unyielding perceptions can be.
Bear the bruising now,
before he grows, enters a world
too eager to spill his blood, too blind to how red it is.
Copyright © 2016 by Teri Ellen Cross Davis. “Knuckle Head” originally appeared in North American Review. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Copyright © 2016 by Craig Santos Perez. “Thanksgiving in the Anthropocene, 2015” originally appeared in Rattle. Reprinted with permission of the author.
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.