Friday, December 26, 2014

Poem of the Week: Rachel Eliza Griffiths


I remember the boys & their open hands. High fives
            of farewell. I remember that the birches waved too,
                        the white jagged limbs turning away from incessant wildfires.

The future wavered, unlike a question, unlike
            a hand or headstone. The future moved & the fields already knew it.

I remember the war of the alphabet, its ears sliced from its face. I
know that language asks for blood.

The children of kudzu, lilac, the spit of unknown rivers. I remember the jury
& the judge of the people. The buckshot that blew
the morning’s torso into smoke.

That last morning I begged the grandmothers to leave their rage next to red candles
& worn photographs of their children & their blue-eyed grandson
with his bleeding heart. The savior bled flowers.

I scattered the stones the trees bore. Gray vultures came for my children.
            They knew the old country better than me. They broke through
                        skyscrapers & devoured both villain & hero.

& boys were pouring, wanted & unwanted & missing yet from the long mouth
where their voices were forced to say they were nothing. But they were men,
& native & guilty beyond their glottal doubt.

I remember calling out to the savage field where more boys knelt & swung
through the air. I remember how their eyes rolled back
in blood, milk, & gasoline. Their white teeth
                                    chewing cotton into shrouds, scars & sheets.

They gave me their last words. They gave me smiles for their fathers.
            They slept in my arms, dead & bruised. Long as brambles.

                        The bullets in their heads & groins
                                    quieting like a day. The meat of nothing.

I held their million heads in my lap when the bodies were taken away.
I don’t know if what’s left will dance or burn.
                                    I wash their eyelids with mint.

                                                                        But let God beg pardon to them & their mothers

& I don’t know if the body is a pendulum of where love cannot go
when the tongue is swollen with the milk of black boys.
I pulled their lives from the trees & lawns & schools.
The unlit houses & the river. Their forewings wet
with clouds

& screaming. I won’t leave them,
                        huddled like bulls inside the stall of a word. I am the shriek,
                                                the suture, the petal
                                                            shook loose from their silence. 

Used with permission.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and visual artist. She is the recipient of fellowships including the Cave Canem Foundation, Millay Colony, Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her visual and literary work has appeared widely. Griffiths is the creator and director of P.O.P (Poets on Poetry), a video series of contemporary poets featured by the Academy of American Poets. Her third collection of poetry, Mule & Pear (New Issues Poetry & Prose), was selected for the 2012 Inaugural Poetry Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Her fourth collection of poetry, Lighting the Shadow, will be published by Four Way Books in 2015. Currently, Griffiths teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn.
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Monday, December 22, 2014

Poems that Resist Police Brutality & Demand Racial Justice - Post #7

We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest -  Poems that Resist Police Brutality & Demand Racial Justice

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son -- we who believe in freedom cannot rest.
                    - Ella Baker

Even as our hearts break in rage and anguish over the murder of Black and brown people throughout the land by police who are not held accountable, here at Split This Rock we are heartened by the powerful actions in the streets and the visionary leadership of mostly young people of color in this growing movement for justice.

We are also moved by the poets, who continue to speak out, and especially by BlackPoetsSpeakOut.

In solidarity, Split This Rock offers our blog as a Virtual Open Mic, open to all who respond to our call for Poems that Resist Police Brutality and Demand Racial Justice. The poems below were submitted in response to that call.

Please note poems with complex formatting have been posted as jpegs, as this blog has a limited capacity for properly displaying these poems. We apologize if these poems are not accessible to you.

For more information or questions, feel free to email us at

If you are moved by any of the poems below, please contact the Department of Justice and your local representatives to demand for police accountability. Visit Ferguson Action Demands for more information.


by Margie Shaheed

“This here movie showed great big beautiful lakes with signs up all around:
But it did not show a single place with a sign up:
Langston Hughes, Simple Speaks His Mind, There Ought To Be A Law

I was there when it happened
February 26, 2012.  Standing as a tree,
I saw everything—you should interview me!
I witnessed George Zimmerman,
when told by the police to stand down,
chose instead to stand his ground,
joining the racist vigilante
legacy of his ancestors.

George Zimmerman,
a murdering taxidermist,
who in the forest of a gated community,
draped by night, stalked and hunted
Trayvon Martin
shot him in the chest—Dead
preparing to stuff and mount
his young Black skin
to hang in yet another museum.

Trayvon’s blood churned out of his torso,
through gaping bullet holes it went,
soaking his grey hoodie.Fresh blood spilled out
onto the concrete
ran its frightened
elephant legs into a nearby lake
laded deep with faces of all of those Black folks
Lynched before him, 
Trayvon’s blood summoned water-logged heads
to the surface.  As they bobbed against foamy  
waves their muted mouths with bony tongues
stuttered wind
turned upward to the sky
nerve endings singed,
asking God, “why in America
ain’t the laws against Lynching enforced?”

who had no
answer for them,
stood up,
turned his back,
stretched his arms out wide,
and yawned.

This is why they died.
And, us who survived?
We can name each and every
one of them—Lynched —
do you have the time?


Ferguson Riots
by Chandramohan S

When the entropy of the writings on the wall
Exceeds the contours of prejudice
It spills on to the streets
Torching vans and barricades
Scripting an uneasy calm
In the language of the unheard.


by Persis M. Karim

What gives the heart

the need to feel
the weight of stone
in hand when outrage
can no longer be swallowed?


by Pamela S. Perkins

Blood soaked fields
Yielding blood soaked streets
Crying out for justice
Never gained.
Stained generations straining
at the brink of denied wrongs
no longer capable of being contained.
Bursting forth into columns of
Smoke, sirens, shouts,
of dissension drowning out
the voices of false patience
screaming wait!
But its way too late as
Blood Cries From the Ground
And another brother goes down
Into the earth choking on his
Last words of freedom,



For People Confusing Young Black Men, Like Myself, with Deer During Hunting Season
by Nahshon Cook

Last night, I sat in my room like a Mongolian lark looking out the window from behind the bars of its bamboo cage at a sparrow in the tree,--and feeling like a flower pot that never leaves the front porch, while I prayed to Erato for a story that would make me human again. She arrived dressed in a pair of big, carrot-orange butterfly wings outlined in white, polka-dotted black trim. After I'd grabbed something to write with, she recited this poem for me:

I see you, She said, there, trying to look away from the convicting eyes of that nigger dangling from Lady Liberty's right wrist. The whip that jolted the buckboard forward and caused that 
nigger's neck to snap like a twig was the lion's roar. In India they say: Sometimes the lion must roar to remind the horse of its fear. You won't be able to stop looking at that nigger until that nigger's body stops swaying in the breeze. Life is worth more than a price. That nigger is you.

Stop running from your demons, She said. Demons are the shit from which angels bloom and heal the refugeed undead exiled in your heart--with love's true aloe, like a shaman. Goodbye.

*First published in L'Allure des Mots Magazine.


Anti Elegy
by Rachel Eliza Griffiths 

The faces of our death are unresolved. The body, identified, is
confirmed by music. Rag time. Big band blood. We all look alike.
We’re prayers. The coroner’s baby grand piano
in a cold drawing room.

We were not identified by our teeth [broken] or by our country [broken].
These are the words we will not be.
                        Will you finish this poem or give the back of its mouth
                                                            to the gun?

The hearts, terra cotta blue, were buried beneath birch.
Drop bread from the hands that push sentences into our cages.
            Murder the grooms & Apollos. Drag your chariots
                        over the head of Orpheus
            where a headless agony rolls
                        like a kickball in a Jasper road.

The business of caretakers? Bet on that
staying platinum. The more black you buy & bury
the harder heaven shines its pennies.

Bless this nation of uncertain chambers. Bludgeon the orchestra with blues.
Plastic bags of glory going for a name on any corner

where a pick-up game distracts the night from the black
            bruise swinging in the jaundice of a streetlight.

The metaphors grieve their own offspring. The riddles are tired of numbers
            & bony ghettos. The scandal of marrow
                        as it witnesses our gaze. The crap game

                                                                        of bones in repose.

First published by THRUSH Poetry Journal, 2012


After the Verdict: Oakland
by Aimee Suzara

We cried to the thunder of helicopters
shredding the wind into scattered pieces
of our safety, our broken hearts
in a time when officers of peace

become agents of death to boys slain

We are not surprised
when Wilson
says “hulk,” and
“demon,” recalling
"half-devil and half-child,"
that century-old language
for savaging the other

We should train our officers
to see human instead of animal,
to be human instead of animal
to see life to be preserved,
not to be ended
with deadly force

It is 59 years from the day

Rosa Parks held her seat in a bus,
the memory of the face of Till,
a boy who loved as boys do
igniting her resolve like a saint

Our modern-day saints are boys
slain without guns, donning hoodies
or not, hands up or not, just being
in the wrong place, in the wrong skin

at the right time

Or a boy playing with a toy in an empty
park, just twelve, shot down in the time
it takes for a viewer to blink and open
his eyes again in disbelief
at a surveillance camera's silent record

Today's boys say they remove their hoodies
in darkened Oakland streets when someone
white walks by, so as not to evoke fear
or connote danger, even though it's cold

and that's what a hood
on a sweatshirt
was designed for

We should train our general citizens
to let boys who are cold on the streets
carrying their bookbags
going home to do homework
not to fear if they should put on a hood
when it's cold
in the dark

We should train ourselves
to be brave in uncomfortable times
to ask ourselves what would we do
if that seat where we were unwanted
where we did not belong
must have been cold in December

and the memory of a saint
a boy who loved as boys do
warmed us up from the inside,
lit fire to our resolve.


Anatomy of a day of Grief
by Angelina Sáenz


I wrote a poem,
called Birthing Dead Men,
Flood of feelings,
regarding black and brown
male bodies,
slipping out of our wombs,
only to be delivered to a death sentence.
I didn't know what to do with it,
post Eric Garner's,
re-death sentence,
I put it on Facebook.
And then, it hurt me so much,
to have that truth, that reality,
floating out there,
that I took it down,
when I woke u,
in the dawn hours,
in the dark.


I took a picture of Amir,
at his 5th grade honor roll assembly,
day after Eric Garner grand jury decision,
and posted it on Facebook.
My little brother,
brown, accomplished Beverly Hills-chef,
thug looking motherfucker himself,
sends me a text and says,
"Amir looks like a cholo in that picture."
Not funny.


I go to my therapy/acupuncture appointment.
"What am I treating you for today?" Jane asks.
"Heartbreak," I answer.
I talk about my poem.
I talk about how all of the recent 
developments have triggered my PTSD
of losing so many brown men in my lifetime.
I tell her about sitting with
my best friend's father when I was 21,
after he had been shot to death,
and his father replaying,
over and over again in his mind,
the moment my friend walked out the door.
"If I would have stopped him,
from walking out that door,
and kept him home that day.
He'd still be alive."
I told her that I was afraid,
as a mother of brown boys,
that someone would not see Amir,
my ten year-old son,
as the Stephen Hawking/Neil deGrasse Tyson 
fan that he is,
with big dreams of going to CalTech
to study astrophysics,
but instead would see him as
thug/cholo/guilty brown boy
and one wrong move,
would make that day his last,
I told her that I LITERALLY
have thought,
"Well, at least he's a little light skinned.
Maybe he could pass."
I say to her.
I want my kids to walk around
in T-shirts that say,
"Future astrophysicist, don't shoot!"
"Future NYU dance choreographer, don't shoot!"

I was sitting in my acupuncturist room.
It was warm in there.
I was crying.
Brown mother,
confessing her fears,
to the Armenian acupuncturist,
who has her own heartbreak,
over Armenian genocide.
She said, "I know," and squeezed my wrist
and said,
"Ready to get on the table?"
"Do you want some heat on your tummy?"
And can I have some heat for my soul,
and for my heart, too?"


Writing My Protest
by Tracey Michae'l

we shall overcome...
we shall overcome...
we shall overcome...


I won't stand before audiences 
with loud words and sound bites,
on the state of the darker nation.
Nor will I attempt to intellectualize our plight
in an effort to evade the reality of a community

I will simply write my protest.

In the tradition of Baldwin and Hughes.
In the vein of Lorde and Angelou.

penning the struggle,
offering spiritual translation,
of ancestral significance.

Examining our lives
and the lies,
Sounding the alarm on injustice
with every single keystroke.
Pouring out love and courage and sacrifice
to make room for more.

I write my vision 
in every poem,
in every story,
into every metaphor
and allegory.

Black bodies swinging...


and that's true.
I also say power to the en
for in the end,

it is my privilege and duty to...

address discrimination,
prevent emotional castration,
head off the attempted bastardization
of God's melanation.

it is my privilege and duty to...

encourage authentic soul excavation

with every dictation,
denounce the political constipation
that exists in this nation,
and uplift future generations
through consistent education.

it is my privilege and duty to...

ponder a revelation
so we all avoid damnation.
defy undercover segregation
and support reparations.
reconcile our own obligations
to a community transformation.

I must write innovation.
I must write inspiration.
I must write motivation.

It is my privilege.
It is my duty.

While the enemy of our souls does his to and fro thing,

I walk in the understanding
that my words are power.
It is my gift to speak truth to them.

So yes, I write my protests.
It is penned with a sincere eye toward freedom.
Freedom for the oppressed
and the oppressor.

Because surely the binding of evil on your soul
must take its toll.

Because surely there is love and joy and peace
on the other side of hate and ignorance.
On the other side of