On Time Tanka

I refuse to choose
between lynch rope and gang rape
the blues is the blues!
my skin and my sex: Deep dues
I have no wish to escape

I refuse to lose
the flame of my single space
this safety I choose
between your fist and my face
between my gender and race

All black and blue news
withers the heart of my hand
and leads to abuse
no one needs to understand:
suicide wipes out the clues

Rollin out the Rolls!
Proud cheatin on your (Black) wife
Loud beatin on your (white) wife

Real slime open mouth
police officer-true-creep
fixin to burn black people
killin the song of our sleep

Neither one of you
gets any play in my day
I know what you do
your money your guns your say
so against my pepper spray

Okay! laugh away!
I hear you and I accuse
you both: I refuse
to choose: All black and blue news
means that I hurt and I lose.


From The Essential June Jordan, edited by Jan Heller Levi and Christoph Keller. © 2021 June M. Jordan Literary Estate and Copper Canyon Press. Used by permission. www.junejordan.com 


About this Poem

“There are certain poets whose works breathe and dream far beyond the first birth of their language. June Jordan’s ‘On Time Tanka’ fills an old form with rage and Black love at once. To defy any form, box, grave, or body inflicted as a definition speaks to the core of Jordan’s craft and identity. The rhythm of this poem gives to us Jordan’s unmitigated powers as though she is, as she will always be, standing up for the lives and rights we too must dream, must demand. In this poem language and action are immediate and urgent as the times we are confronting. Against that perpetual confrontation, June Jordan lived, writing furiously for herself and for those she knew would be coming through the violence of America. In the name of listening and truth-telling, the poetry of June Jordan resists memory and can never be silenced.”
Rachel Eliza Griffiths