Friday, July 29, 2016

Poems that Speak Out Against Violence and for Embrace - Lisa DeVuono

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. 


A Day In The Life of A Black Man
by Lisa DeVuono


He wakes up to his wife’s honey skin
lighter than his own midnight
the smell of their children between
them in bed. There’s a sun spot on the ceiling,
it widens its opening
depending on the deepening of the dawn.
Skin wraps around the tightness in his chest,
a hand on the belly of his loneliness. And he remembers
to breathe in, that life is good.

His children are moving,
a tumbling on the floor, a cry from the crib.
The untangling of a family begins.
His eldest son, now seven
watches him from the top of the toilet seat,
as he shaves back his shadow.
The mirror reminds him of his strength.
He lingers in the truth of this,
moved by the memory of majesty. And he remembers
to breathe in, that life is good.

Over breakfast and the spilling of milk, and tying of shoes,
he manages to play with his daughter, in diapers. He calls his
mother for barbecue on Sunday. The refrigerator is full,
and from his window, he hears the sounds
of his neighborhood. He thinks to mow the lawn,
the neighbor’s cats are drowning in it. And he remembers
to breathe in, that life is good.


He is the last to leave the house. His tie straightened,
his hair smooth, he waters the cactus. He checks his wallet,
car registration and driver’s license on top ready for
delivery at a moment’s notice. His paycheck is high enough
but his car is older still. His invisibility returns. And he remembers
to breathe in, that life is good.


Before the subway turnstile now, he waits,
missing the first train, better to go through it alone.
The platform is teeming,
he seeks the spot by the last car..
Walking to work, he looks straight.
White woman on up ahead, he crosses the street. And he remembers
to breathe in, that life is good.


At the bank, the line is long and he shifts his largeness,
one foot on the other. He thinks to pass the time, he’ll say
hello to the man in front, the white man in front,
and he moves two steps back, one bus length long. And he remembers
to breathe in, that life is good.

At five pm he thinks to stay to six, not too long past
the rushing hour. There’s a new
security guard down front. He leaves instead
and carries work inside him. And he remembers
to breathe in, that life is good.


He reaches his home, unraveling the daily dirt from
underneath his skin. His children lean into his knees,
his honey haired wife wraps herself
around his upper back.
He slips off invisibility, his large black self returns.

He throws away the traffic ticket,
levied two blocks away, this time. And he remembers
to breathe in, that life is good.

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