If the back & arms you carry riddle with black
spots & marks made by birds who don’t want us here—
I will remind you: There are people who did this before us,
brown & black-spotted, yellow, with rattails,
born from what others did not want & loathed & aimed
to never let belong, & so, we are here today—
the field is wide. We make saliva from root & light.
Our spikelets grow, & do you feel the wind?- Joe Jiménez, Smutgrass
Orlando. Dhaka. Istanbul. Baghdad. Medina. Nice. The killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the murder of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. This summer, terrible bigotry and violence have rent our global community. The killings must end, and we in the poetry community must contribute in any way we can. As we search for answers to these horrors and for ways to combat hatred and prejudice, we are reminded of poetry’s capacity to respond to violence, to help us regenerate, like spikelets sprouting in a contested field, claiming our public spaces for everyone.
In solidarity with all those targeted at home and abroad, from the LGBT community in the United States to devastated families of Baghdad, Split This Rock is offering its blog as a Virtual Open Mic. Over the next couple of weeks, from July 14 to 28, we are requesting poems in response to and against violence toward marginalized communities. After the Virtual Open Mic closes, we hope to print out and mail all of the poems to Congress and the National Rifle Association.
We are accepting poems through July 28; for more information, read the initial post here.
Allegory of the Slave
by Armine Iknadossian
They tell me not to cry,
not to care too much.
There is no room for passion here.
No, I must watch the news without debate or concern
for the welfare of others
or just ignore the news, if need be. Let it lie lie lie.
Turn your back to the sun, and only read shadows.
Live in a cave. It’s better, they say.
Care less, watch a funny sitcom, play with your dog,
but don’t waste your time in debate with bigots
Not on Facebook, not in emails or texts. Just let it go, they say,
because you are powerless to change any of it.
Who are you anyway?
You are nobody, only one in billions
who can’t make a difference.
It is chess, they say,
and girls don’t play chess. And aren’t you a refugee?
Just shut up and be grateful you are alive,
stop complaining about your father’s sins,
about your ancestors who made their beds in blood.
That’s just life, they say. That’s what countries do.
Any civilized person should know this.
Any woman with half a brain should understand
the logistics, the statistics, the inevitability of violence;
anything less would simply be naïve.
Women are naïve. We trust too easily.
We like to nurture and feed. That’s not real.
Instead you should play at killing each other.
That’s natural, you see.
That’s what boys do.
Boys are survivors.
They know how to safely load and unload a gun,
and how to shoot to kill. You should learn.
It might save your life someday.
Why are you getting angry?
Oh you’re so intense.
Do you need a good fuck?
Maybe if you lose some weight,
you will feel better about
the bloated bankers who stole your parents’ retirement.
Maybe if you meditate,
maybe if you take a nice, long walk on the beach
maybe if you volunteer your time,
go to church, create something,
you will not sound like a lobster
in hot water. Such an unpleasant sound.
Your anger is not free.
Your anger needs to be demoted
to second class anger,
the kind we can live with,
the kind we still won’t understand
but will at least do its job like its told.
Do your job, but do it silently,
without reproach or indignation,
because we need you,
the children need you,
your country needs you,
future generations need your obedience.
You see American debt is also due diligence.
Be a team player.
It is your civic duty to live in fear and hopelessness.
It is your civic duty to feed the war machine.
It is your civic duty to sign over your paycheck to medical debt.
It is your civic duty to kill for the KKK.
Sign up for the police force. We need your anger there,
but not your IQ. Intellect is immodest.
A smart, angry woman is more dangerous than an AK47.
More dangerous than Rohipnol in the Mai-Tai,
More dangerous than the illegal sex trade in Dubai,
More dangerous than the Stanford rapist, the wage gap,
abortion clinic murders and Boko Haram.
We are taking back the markets in India.
We are taking back our villages and our uteruses,
with threats of breast-feeding in public and other
barbaric behaviors like menstruation, hormonal
rage and unwanted body hair.
We may not be made of nuclear energy,
but our nucleus is made of the bitterest battery acid.
Our voices will not decompose in a land-fill
or be painted over with institutional colors
like so much urban poetry, like so many
teen suicides in Pine Ridge you lose count,
like being choked to death on a street corner,
like being shot in the face at close range for selling CDs.
Just be polite, they say.
Smile for the officer.
Spread your legs.