Thursday, August 20, 2020

Poems of Persistence, Solidarity, and Refuge – Najya Williams

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.


the poem requires
By Najya Williams


A long time ago

A brilliant woman once told me

“The poem requires what the poem requires.”

I carried it with me

Trying to write the shackles off my wrists

Loosen the gag from my tongue

Wedging a pen between my past and future

Yet it is only now I realize

That I was the poem all along


Do you know what it feels like

To stretch the lyrics laced across your shoulders until they fit

One line of prose to be cut and devoured and reassembled again

To make metaphor of the little fires dancing behind your eyes

Praying that they don’t melt everything unrecognizable 

To make hyperbole of the salt water bodies hiding in your lungs

Until the fight feels better fought from the outside looking in


Do you know what it feels like

To have the hand of God quiver ever so slightly in the midst of your midnight tremor

To wait for the chain of despair to sink to the bottom of the bloodied ink on the page

To hope that the tears streaming from every pore don’t give away the very last of what is left


I always thought

The poem didn’t know what it required

It was my job to manipulate it beautiful

Twist and bend it until its acrobatic instinct overwhelmed the scales

Stack mountains within its stanza so the valleys no longer exist

The plateau never comes

The limits never return

I always thought it was my job to carve the poem

Line by line

Until the bittersweet taste felt like a psalmist praise

Shake the fruit from its limbs

So that when it reaches the ultimate resting place

It forges ahead alone


But the poem requires what the poem requires

Without the personification of fear

Without the seamless perfection of imagery in the ghost of a former self’s likeness

Without the internal rhymes internal destruction

Without the word play no longer having fun


The poem requires what the poem requires

And now

Life can finally begin

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