Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Poems that Speak Out Against Violence and for Embrace - Heather Derr-Smith

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. 


by Heather Derr-Smith

From the mountain, Jabal Qasioun
Above Damascus, God sees everything.

Not a hand over me, God says.
Sometimes he becomes Innana, Mistress of the Me.

His breasts swell at night with the lights of the houses, asterism
Scattered against the hill, a mirage of starry sky.

Below, on a rooftop in Yarmouk camp, a Palestinian boy
Washes his green and pink bicycle.

Down the broad traffic-choked avenue, the leaves of the trees
Recant all their summer promises.

The little rooms grow cold. Space heaters crackle to life.

A man in a shop smoothes velvet baby dresses
With his rough fingertips.

The laurel leaves, elderberry,
And arbors of jasmine are virescent memories, suspended.

God sees everything over ash-Sham, which is the real name
For Damascus, the ones who know will tell you--

And farther still, farther God looks with her necklace of eyes,
To where the call to prayer overlaps with other calls
From other directions,

To where in a cell, a man
Has written poetry on a Styrofoam cup with his fingernails,

About paradise:

The roar of music there unceasing--

The light's execration--

The water, irremissible as it pours into breath--

[Originally published in The Bride Minaret (University of Akron Press, 2008)]

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