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.
Grandmothers' Lemon Bread
by Catherine Keefe
We are better than this. This black body gunned down, this hate speech so juicy they spit when they speak, is not even close to the best we can be. We are not their worst. Watch. Watch us will our best selves out of our skin like ripe fruit out of roughened drought-stricken bark, reaching growth so fast we won't even look back. Look, look into the eyes that return your gaze. Your eyes. Your face. Your hopes. Your love for this world and its messy, tired, hopeless people who sometimes forget that the easiest thing to do is to love. To love. To love is how we are better than this. To bake lemon bread with fruit from the tree blooming this summer in spite of it all, and to squeeze every last drop of sour juice from that bumpy ass rind, to beat in sugar, to whip in flour and leavening and two eggs which signify new life and settle thin, sweet batter into flimsy foil hope. We wait like we are baking some new kind of world. We are better than this when we walk next door, wafting the scent of kindness before us and with our two kind hands we pass the gift of bread. Only do this to a stranger, the neighbor you've not yet spoken to, the one you think is odd, or off, or so different from you that you don't need to ever say hello. Say hello. Say, I see you neighbor. Say I see you and maybe you're hungry and tired and want someone to hand you something sweet that reminds you of your grandmother from the middle of nowhere. Say here is this bread, let's break together, for when we are better than this it will be like this, licking sweet crumbs off our fingers with someone whose name we just learned is the same as our father's great aunt who came over on some boat we don't know the name of and we'll laugh at what are the odds? What is the food of your grandmother? Ask this. Ask about what she wanted most in life. Know she expected the best from you. Know she knew we would be better than this. Know that she was never, ever wrong.