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 Douglas William Garcia Mowbray
In an if-you-seesaw something
city of charm and harm,
laying claim to two-hundred-year-old odes,
laying blame to two hundred dropped bodies before sundown,
in desperate need for a new song,
a new slogan on the benches
baking in the sun
cooking the bus-waiters like smuggled ostrich eggs.
In a city cicada is a rattlesnake
and rabid squirrels are backyard dogs.
The cicada is drowned out
from the ace in the spoke-blades overhead,
and the squirrel falls from the gingko tree
with a thump, startling the rat,
harbinger of a happy meal,
little carrier of dizzy unease,
like the little councilperson who sold out all the easements—
not so little when backed by the backers
backing the broken backs into the back corner—
the rat is dreaming he’s a butterfly
and dreaming of the bomb in this total war,
wondering why he ever got on the damned ark.
Next time around, he’ll lobby to be a shark.
Next time around, the city song will be a whale song.
This time around, after the bomb,
the cicadas will be snacks,
the squirrels will be delicacies,
and the helicopters will be
the black corpses in the streets.