Thursday, August 20, 2020

Poems of Persistence, Solidarity, and Refuge – Grisel Y. Acosta

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.

From late April to mid-May, Split This Rock asked poets to send 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: Death of a child, violence in immigration system

We Carry the Earth
By Grisel Y. Acosta

We bring the harvest and lay it at an altar
of bread crust, pierced gold earrings, and the bones of our first born

Banana leaves halo the foundation of her body,
we salt the sand she rests upon, sprinkling the mineral from seashells

We pick translucent grapes and squeeze the juice into our downturned
mouths, lay gardenias to frame her death, perfume the pain within our muscles

You see a carcass of stone, barren of life, bleached ossein, 
we see the child that ran between the Saguaros and wore red Matucana’s in her hair

Cognac woven leather wrapped her brave feet as her toes tipped
sharp rock, skipped over puddles bordering the desert on lucky rain days 

White sun burned through camisas de primos, sent to us del Norte,
worn threads unraveling with each day of wear, cada dia without descanso or certainty

Black hair flying like whipping palms, set aflight from much needed breezes
cooled café skin burning cedar brown with each step on the red tawny dirt taking us closer

Cyan sky hovered over our contorted path, twisted like a sapphire river
pooling into a sea of compadres singing the blues at the frontera, asking, “¿Y de donde tu vienes?”

It must have been the cold
concrete holding her like iron gate
choking her lungs into frozen
prayer, holding her breath
tight within grey mucus and swollen sacs
bubbles of air that stopped
circulating, like language
words that fall dead on icy ears.


Se murio de neumonía. 
There was no water.
There was no soap.
I was taken away from her.
Lloró en la mañana.
She called to me at 3 am.
I was not there.
You were not there. 
We were not there.
We still are not there.
She will continue to cry her song in wind until we are there.
A shriek in the current is free to move, cross, fly beyond the flimsy delusion of barriers. 

Her body will dust your land which is my land which is our land
We do not carry danger to your door
There is no door
There is no danger
There is only land
There is only earth
We carry this Earth on our skin
We carry it in our lungs
We carry it as our body which holds all bodies
Dirt from many tierras that are one tierra
We set it at an altar
We set you at the altar
We set ourselves at the altar
We set our firstborn at the altar
See the altar
See the Earth
Come carry it with us
Carry the child
Carry the family
Carry the people who are your people who are yourselves
You have been invited. 

† The words at the center of the poem are in the Nahuatl language. They mean “dead children,” “tomb,” and “this will end.”

Listen as Grisel Y. Acosta reads “We Carry the Earth.”

Previously published in The Baffler, 2020.

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