Lateral Violence

For Valorie

First a flabby belittlement by some well-meaning
white folks when they cross me because they weren’t meaning
to, they say. It was only that I had become wholly invisible 
and they enjoy their heaping, entitled vocalizations
that enforce their platforms of corporeal speech. 

But through this I learned that I had no real power to wield, 
and this crown I wore, glittering in green fermentation,
put my head into a state of chronic query. 
My desire is lost in a fomenting chrome. 

But then I noticed my solidarity sisters sniff out my lack, too, 
and the vascular trauma of hurt in my blood became 
a wound in my particles. 

Distinctions around difference and assimilation fester
and hurt feelings erupt from lateral power. 
It pains much worse because they seem to be playing
out a supremacy of whiteness, of wielding power
from which an outspread lack peels away to a nothingness 
marked with the pinkest cardinal feelings. 

I don’t believe we outright demean each other,
we might just be trying to fit ourselves in, 
hating all the spirals inside of the shape
trying to let them fizz or spark, but a wrongness
emerges replacing the earned principled feeling. 

I say all this because I look back on how power systems
at play in microaggressions still impart feelings 
of terror because they annihilate, desecrating
the inner self-protection one might seed or learned behind 
some favored sanguine curtains.

I recall myself there hiding a judgment going back colonial centuries: 
how it sticks in fenced edges. How I knew trying to make friends
would undo my best intentions and thwart so much 
of what had been a fernery of deep and culminating sympathies. 
My heart, my mind, my head hoped we’d have real intimacy—
bonded connections based on our chunky hardships,  
not the hard bitten loss in the over-harvested field of 
scarcity knocking several of us down with full force.  
And now do we sit in this field, doing the scholarly work
of facing the empire, but wounded from those 
whom we bitterly wanted on our side, not on our back.

Copyright © 2023 by Prageeta Sharma. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 29, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.