Thursday, August 4, 2016

Poems that Speak Out Against Violence and for Embrace - Semein Washington

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. 


Enmity as it Stands
by Semein Washington

Bullets trip through dancers' chests
and a truck mows down revelers in the street
and two men were shot by policemen for nothing
and five policemen were shot by a soldier.
Now my breath just sours in my lungs;
Now my heart just tumbles blood.

Wherever I look, I see blood,
hear of blood, of stopped hearts in chests
and wonder if I hold their truth too in many lungs.
I wonder if the blood's enough for Turkish soldiers,
if it's enough to warrant terror in the streets.
I say it all achieves nothing, turns human life to nothing.

I try to hold in names but I feel that also comes to nothing.
I cannot hold much more than blood
and I see it running in most any given street.
There is a new war everyday against nothing with soldiers
trained in hatred. This is more I can't hold in my chest;
this is more that just stings in my lungs.

I hope there's still function in my lungs,
that they can deflate, inflate. It is the sweetest nothing
I can give. It is the best gift of my chest.
I wish it could give back the lives lost. I wish the soldiers
would hold back. I wish they'd spill not one more drop of blood.
I wish most anyone could safely walk the streets.

Yet I doubt more everyday that I'll walk safely down the streets.
I hold the doubt more firmly in my lungs
than I do hope but let the hope flow in my blood.
I'll let it blossom there. I'll wish for soldiers
trained in peace. I'll wish it comes to more than nothing.
I'll wish love blossoms in their chests.

I'll wish this forces all hate from their chests.
I'll wish it causes no more terror in the streets.
I'll wish it comes to more than nothing.
No more terrorists to pass themselves as soldiers
or soldiers with a cause that isn't peace. I'll hold this in my lungs;
I'll only let this in my blood.

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