You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.
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.
for my cousin Julia Zetino The words Notice to Appear flap like a monarch trapped in a puddle. Translation: ten years in a cell cold enough to be named Hielera. If not that, a plane with chains locked to her legs. My aunt swam across the Río Bravo twice to see her second daughter born in Greenbrae. ¿Why can’t my sister come here? asks the one who speaks English. The monarch’s beaten, but it won’t listen. Since nothing’s wasted, it might get eaten, it will nourish ants already gathering. * It was a hill like this. I was tired. I couldn’t keep running and fell. If it wasn’t for the women who went back to pick me up from the shore, I wouldn’t be here. * Somewhere along here there’s a bridge. A cactus-pear bridge, red like: the dirtiest sunset, Gila monster hiding, leftover sardines in tin. ¿The hibiscus sprouting? ¿Bougainvillea? One daughter wakes and sees them and the volcano, and fire flowers through her window. She’s never seen the bridge her mom isn’t afraid of. * My aunt, twenty-five years selling pupusas near that pier, ten and counting cleaning houses, baking bread, anything in Larkspur. Most people in La Herradura haven’t seen their parents. Her daughter Julia, over there. Here, her daughter Adriana takes the bus to school every day. * The first try we were already in that van and La Migra was chasing us. The driver said he was going to stop, we should open the doors and run. There were a lot of trucks. Sirens. Men through the speakers. I got to a bush and hid. One dog found me. He didn’t bite. He just stood next to me till one gringo handcuffed me. * This beach, these hills, are pretty. It looks like La Puntilla, except it’s cold. I wish Julia was here. Javier, take a picture of Adriana and me. I’ll send it to Julia. * It’s complicated. Mamá me dejaste, decí que vas a regresar, I said, at night on that same bed you sleep in now. Same bed next to the window from which you see the lemons, the custard apples, the bean fields, then the volcano. I’m sorry none of us ever saw you draw butterflies like we see Adriana draw them, with the caption: “the butterflies were going to save the world from tornado. And did.”
Copyright © 2016, 2017 by Javier Zamora. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.
Instead of sleeping—
I walk with him from the store.
No Skittles, thank you.
We do not talk much—
Sneakers crossing the courtyard.
Humid Southern night.
We shake hands and hug—
Ancient, stoic tenderness.
I nod to the moon.
I'm so old school—
I hang till the latch clicks like.
An unloaded gun.
Copyright © 2015 by Reuben Jackson. Used with permission of the author.
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.
Yet the peach tree
& falls with fruit & without
birds eat it the sparrows fight
burns with trash & drug
it also breathes & sprouts
vines & maguey
laws pass laws with scientific walls
detention cells husband
with the son
the wife &
the daughter who
married a citizen
they stay behind broken slashed
un-powdered in the apartment to
deal out the day
& the puzzles
another law then another
the grass is mowed then blown
by a machine sidewalks are empty
clean & the Red Shouldered Hawk
down — from
an abandoned wooden dome
an empty field
it is all in-between the light
every day this changes a little
yesterday homeless &
w/o papers Alberto
left for Denver a Greyhound bus he said
where they don’t check you
under the silver darkness
with our mind
Copyright © by Juan Felipe Herrera. Used with the permission of the author.
Fuss, fight, and cutting the huckley-buck—Dear Malindy,
Underground, must I always return to the country of the dead,
To the coons catting about in the trees, the North Carolina pines
Chattering about sweetening bodies in their green whirring?
Do these letters predict my death—some sound of a twig
Breaking then a constant drowning—a butter bean drying
Beneath my nails? Casket, rascal, and corn bread cooling board.
Dear Malindy, when the muskrats fight in the swamp I knows
It’s you causing my skull to rattle. You predicted my death
With my own baby teeth and a rancid moon beneath our legs.
No girl, my arm still here. The antlers on the mantle yet quiet.
All the ocean’s water without me and yet in me. Never mind,
Malindy. They already shot the black boy on the road for dying
Without their permission. Yes, gal, I put on my nice suit. And wait.
You only watch the news to find out
where the fires are burning, which way
the wind is blowing, and whether
it will rain. Forecast ahead but first:
A mother’s boy laid out
in the street for hours.
These facts don’t wash away.
Copyright © 2016 D. A. Powell. Used with permission of the author.
the bullet is his whole life.
his mother named him & the bullet
was on its way. in another life
the bullet was a girl & his skin
was a boy with a sad laugh.
they say he asked for it—
must I define they? they are not
monsters, or hooded or hands black
with cross smoke.
they teachers, they pay tithes
they like rap, they police—good folks
gather around a boy’s body
to take a picture, share a prayer.
oh da horror, oh what a shame
why’d he do that to himself?
they really should stop
getting themselves killed
Copyright © 2015 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
one is hard & the other tried to be
one is fast & the other was faster
one is loud & one is a song
with one note & endless rest
one's whole life is a flash
both spend their life
trying to find a warmth to call home
both spark quite the debate,
some folks want to protect them/some think we should just get rid
of the damn things all together.
Copyright © 2014 by Danez Smith. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017) Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.
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.