Thursday, September 17, 2020

Poems of Persistence, Solidarity, and Refuge – Naomi Ortiz

We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond.  ― Gwendolyn Brooks  

Split This Rock Virtual Open Mic announcement includes a black background with red Split This Rock logo, text that reads "Virtual Open Mic," and an illustration of a hanging lamp sending out rays of light over a laptop.
As we journey through political, economic, and global health crises, we turn to poetry to share truths that unearth underlying causes, illuminate impacts, and insist on transformative change. For many of us, today’s challenges are not new. The struggle of isolation, economic insecurity, inadequate medical care, deadly institutionalized negligence, governmental decisions that put Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, disabled, sick, and other structurally precarious people at greater risk are not new. Today, many more people are experiencing the vulnerability of these unrelenting issues. We recognize this opportunity for a heightened awareness of how our very survival depends on one another.

Poetry can help keep the flame of resilience, solidarity, and resistance alive in us. It can help us process and move through grief, anger, loneliness. Poetry can be a comfort when the most necessary actions are to rest and recover. It can remind us of what’s at stake, that our lives and legacy are worth the fight. As cultural workers, we know that culture shapes our political and social imagination at a foundational level. As poets, we can use poetry to map what is, what has been, and possibly, the way forward, including the reasons not to return to what does not honor and protect our lives, our communities, and our planet.

We asked poets to give us the words they chant to get out of bed, to raise their fists, to encourage their kin, to remind us, as this crisis does, that “we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” To read all of these poems, visit Split This Rock’s website.

Content Notice: Migration, border crossing, PTSD, intergenerational/inherited trauma, state violence

Seeker in the Borderlands
By Naomi Ortiz


Seeker, enter softly. Great fear lives here. 

Enter only with what you must take. 

Be ready to separate from it all - even your child,

 your child,     your heart, 

 your child,              your heart, 

 your child,              your heart, 

 your child,     your heart

My father still will not talk about


His story always starts in the cotton fields of Texas.

His story always starts with survival,

the ways he was useful. 

In his history of self, 

there is before crossing, and there is after.

In between 

is a trauma that breath is not strong enough

to carry past lips, 

to breathe out into sunshine.

I’ve learned there is no good time to ask. 

The rigidity of his inner strength, his stubborn streak, 

reminds me 

that sometimes the body can endure what the soul cannot speak of. 

I wonder if his journey started now, 

if in addition to all that is unnamed,

had been separated from his mother, 

the only family who held his hand

in this new place, 

would his story still be one of survival?

If he was placed stagnant and alone 

in a crowd of children,

would his blood have forgotten how to move?

Would his child mind conformed to the weight of hate? 

Folded to self-protect, to accept -

how to live in a cage?

What will be the stories of these fathers?


In my family’s borderlands, 

tears flood the crevices of canyons eroded by bulldozers and Border Patrol tires.

The inter-generational devotion to duality is being torn away, 

replaced by a 30-foot metal monument to a false sense of security.

Plants, animals, people all try to survive without movement. 

Without movement, one can never belong. 


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