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 Anita Lerek
I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
- Adrienne Rich, from “Diving Into The Wreck” (1972)
She is a ghost in the gay and lesbian archive,
laboring with records of HIV blood tests,
insurance policies, police summonses, obituaries;.
her mind, a jury of lives, what to destroy,
what to store as stand-ins for being:
She is the archivist of her times,
at the retractable shore watching,
then falling into the furies that destroy
inside and out: from nausea and night sweats
and wasting away to carpeted and drug-sweetened
pits created by dragons from desperate quarters
raging, stabbing, shooting away.
She is the shaman communicating between ancestors
and pleaders, she is the instrument
that transports back from the dead.
Lazarus-like snaking out of the rock.
She sorts through leaflets and postcards,
cries from another time,
on mother pines
pulped and squeezed
into paper weapons demanding life.
Keep the scribbled note of a meeting, the route of the demonstration,
guest list of dignitaries, announcing a politician’s effigy burning:
boxes of memories, screaming infants that won’t be stilled.
Are there contraceptives to block suffering’s ooze
to the witness, bomb shelters to safeguard angels?
Say, a decisive thrust, a certain view that draws a line
between you and them, such as,
‘it’s just the past, just a job, it’s far away.
Don’t worry, nothing wrong with you.’
Her body holds the others,
through continuous exposure,
frame by frame, sharp pains
ground in velvet, with interludes
of the ordinary: dry cleaning stub
museum pass, bar receipt
for 12 bottles of ice vodka.
The social body grows upon the cells
and tissues of bodies, limbs upon limbs
linked by mathematical gods that enrich and curse
Try to create barriers between the innocent and the enraged,
the hardy plants and the infected ones. Keep the beetles
and weeds from crossing over.
Can’t stop the mottle virus.
Can’t stop the spilling over of disturbance.
Try capturing stillness outside the body before doubling over.
Try for delay with prescriptions for cocktails:
Sorting . . . listing . . . 71 million people from the start infected with HIV . . . 34 million worldwide
died of AIDS . . . Massacres in Bataclan, Baton Rouge, San Bernardino
The mighty sperm whale pregnantwith stenches,
ashes, and shadowy particles
dreams of reaching goddesses
promising invisibility, but she can’t let go.
On her late night walk home, young men laugh
and stumble over her as if she is not there.
She approaches the park bench,
inches in between the day’s damage,
fingers the odours, the burnings,
the swellings that thread through shadows
Cries propel her out of the wreck,
to work, to breathe messages
from mighty pine ancestors
into the mouths of those left standing.