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May 13, 1985/2015*

My mind and heart are struggling with this 30-year anniversary. With the fact of the 11 lives lost on May 13th, with the fact of what happened to the people of the 6200 block of Osage Avenue in Philadelphia, but also with the clear connection to the ways we see police departments interact with — and act on — communities of color today. And Black communities in particular.

When the Philadelphia police bombed the MOVE house on May 13th 1985, I was more than 3,600 miles away, at the start of a months-long hitch through Europe. I had just left Paris, after a couple of weeks of reconnecting with teachers and friends I’d met during my junior year abroad. I’d had a good day of hitching and was settling into Bordeaux. With no radio or television, I didn’t know about the bombing until the next day when I grabbed a copy of the International Herald Tribune and an Orangina and went to find a sunny spot to enjoy both.

Sitting in a pretty park under cool springtime sun, a photo and news story tilted my entire world.

I don’t remember how many times I read that article. I don’t know how long I sat staring blankly trying and failing to process what I’d read. I sat there long enough and looked lost and distraught enough that a man approached to ask if I was okay, to ask if I was injured in some way. Eventually I clipped the article from the paper and kept it in my journal. A place marker: this is your country, this is the state of things in 1985 in your country, this is a way a local police force in your country chooses to deal with a group of Black people it doesn’t like.

Because that was the horror, that was the reason I read the article over and over. How could it be happening in 1985 in my country? I remember repeating again and again, “But it’s 1985. It’s 1985.”

And now it’s 2015. It’s 30 years later, and we see municipal police departments describing the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve as “enemies,” we see police departments armed with military equipment and perfectly comfortable using those weapons and tools on civilians, we see more and more and more Black bodies, and we see the ones we’ve lost accused of orchestrating their own deaths. Every piece of this echoes what we saw in 1985 at 6221 Osage Avenue.

In 1985, firefighters were told to “let the fire burn,” to allow the fire caused by the police bombing to burn until it spread and destroyed almost two city blocks. Today, we see police officers shoot unarmed Black people and leave them where they fall while they call their union reps or alter crime scene evidence, or just walk away. In 1985, a residential neighborhood was bombed by the police. In 2015 — perhaps in an effort to protect property and serve landlords — police gun us down in the street.

_____

White Supremacy, always the hardest worker in any room, has been busy — up from slavery, out through Reconstruction and Jim Crow, five steps ahead of the Civil Rights Movement, exploding over 6221 Osage, down through to today. White Supremacy doesn’t sleep, keeps its eyes wide open at all times. We get angry, White Supremacy takes three steps forward. We get comfortable, White Supremacy takes five. Bombing the MOVE house was horrific, but it wasn’t enough. White Supremacy needed those snipers firing on folks trying to escape the inferno, needed to let the fire rage and take down 59 other houses to prove a point, make an example,  needed to leave that neighborhood in limbo and decay for 30 years to be sure we got the message.

I’m not saying this fight isn’t winnable. No. I’m saying we can’t get comfortable, we have to be as vigilant as White Supremacy, keep our eyes wide open, keep watch on all the doors and windows.

White Supremacy wanted the Philadelphia Bombing to teach us a lesson. Thirty years later, we are making clear that we’ve learned a lesson. Not the one implicit bias, internalized racial hatred, and White Supremacy would have had us learn, however. Thirty years later, we are calling bullshit on the lies and the violence. We are creating  a Movement for Black Lives, and we aren’t sitting down and shutting up when white people get their feelings hurt or are forced to examine their motives, their privilege, their dismissal of our deaths.

In 1985, I didn’t know what to do with the pain of the Philadelphia Bombing other than grieve in silence. In 2015, my pen is firmly in my hand. I grieve, but I am no longer silent.

__________
* I suppose it is too much to expect Google’s doodle for this day to be #BlackLivesMatter. But perhaps it’s fitting that the doodle honors the woman who discovered the earth’s core. The issue of state violence against Black bodies is definitely at the core of who we are as a nation.

Flesh, Blood, Breath

Flesh, Blood, Breath

Bury the bodies. Each sacred, each loved. Linger over choosing the right outfit, the right music, the flowers that will make the going-home service exactly what you want. As if this service could ever be exactly what you want. Bury the bodies. With friends and family standing on cold, windswept knolls, on sunny patches of technicolor grass, in crocus-dotted fields thick with post-winter mud, in the shadow of elevated tracks in the heat of July. Bury the bodies. Tamir, Akai, Pearlie, Yvette, Eric, Trayvon, Rekia, Eleanor, Michael, Oscar, Tarika, Aiyana, Derek, Sean, Shereese, Miriam. Bury the bodies. Keep the memories fresh with stories and photos. Bury the bodies. Tanisha, Jordan, Shelly, Amadou, Darnisha, John, Malissa, Ramarley, Alesia, Patrick, Shantel, Rumain, Kathryn, Ezell, Deion, Alberta, Kimani, Kendra, Reynaldo. Bury the bodies. Bury all of the bodies. Bury each of the bodies. Say: “Not one more,” every single time. Bury the bodies. Understand that, with the amount of ground that has swallowed our loves, we could have built our own colony, built our own society. Understand that it wouldn’t have mattered, that hate would still have come for us. Breathe. Bury the bodies. Bury the bodies. Bury the bodies. When there is no room left for our dead, how will hate erase us then?


And another year of 30 poems in 30 days comes to a close. As I did last year, followed along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. For the month’s final poem:

Take the phrase “Bury the (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem.

You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Did you write poems this month? Where can I see them?
Are you exhausted after this 30/30 craziness?

Gift-Wrapped

So yes, that mom slapping her son around and dragging him away from the protests in Baltimore.

I’m not a parent, but I can understand not wanting your child to be in the middle of a situation that could turn ugly in a nanosecond. How could I not understand that?

But …

While I am definitely feeling some kind of way about the fact that she is suddenly a media darling, being feted on the morning news shows and called a hero … one of the ways I’m not feeling is surprised. Is anyone surprised ? Does anyone honestly believe all the positive attention being showered on this woman is coming from a place of understanding her fear for her son and her urgent need to get him out of harm’s way? Because what I see is a media machine with an agenda. A media machine thrilled to death at the sight of a Black woman slapping the crap out of a young Black man. A media machine that has been pressuring every Black person it can get its hands on to condemn the protests (yes, Wolf, I’m looking at you, but not only at you). And this mother has served herself up to the machine wrapped in a glittery bow.

Watching the salivating anchors show that footage over and over yesterday made me sick. Do I think that mom shouldn’t have pulled her son out of the protests? Of course not. That’s her baby. She should want to fight for his safety. I just wish she’d found a different way to do it, a way that wouldn’t have been such a silver-plattered offering to the narrative white supremacist culture is pushing so hard every day, the narrative that spins this story away from the facts we should be discussing.

Sometimes moms need to slap sense into children’s heads — figuratively more than literally, I hope — but that’s not the solution to institutional racism. For the last day, folks have been trying to convince me that having more moms take an open palm to their kids’ heads is all we need to resolve these issues. As if.

But of course that’s where the machine wants to point us. Because if that could ever, in any reality, be true, a) there would be no reason to talk or do anything about structural racism, racial prejudice, a history of violence and injustice against Black people, or the ways that history continues to play out in our day to day lives; b) white supremacy would get the every-night pleasure of seeing Black mothers beating their children on television, which would c) confirm the stereotypes of the angry Black woman and the good-for-nothing young Black man; d) white supremacy could sit back and relax because all of the it’s-not-about-race race problems could be laid at the feet of bad Black parenting, all those Black mothers who haven’t beaten their children with sufficient intensity to solve the world’s problems.

Still feeling a lot of different kinds of ways.

Clearly.

I Am Beautiful when I’m Angry

What nobody knows is that my anger and I are growing closer. She has revealed herself to have a sensuous, molten core of rage, and I have revealed myself to have a ravenous attraction to it. Deep gold fire coating my fingers like honey each time I dip in. She doles it out slowly, allowing my system to adjust to the weight and power, the gift. But the world accelerates the process, dashing salt on every bite, intensifying the flavor, expanding my hunger. Every body left in the street. Salt. Every officer unindicted. Salt. Every media hack shilling for white supremacy. Salt. This rage — rich and thick, with the sweet burn of cayenne chocolates and tamarind candies, no less potent for surfacing in words. Delicious. Mine. 


As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a “what nobody knows” poem.

You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them?
Let’s share this craziness!

Here is a thing. There’s been a lot of commentary on my FB feed today about Baltimore. Tonight, a friend posted a great note about her privilege as a white woman and the things she’s able to do without fear of rousing the suspicions or violence of police. Another woman — a friend? a co-worker? — commented, “Not all cops behave in the same manner.” I responded to my friend’s post and then in parentheses mentioned to the other woman that I wasn’t sure what point she wanted to make. That was all I said. I bit back the first thoughts I had. I wanted to leave her some room to help me understand. Instead, she came back with: @Stacie: “Not all cops behave in the same manner.”

Seriously? I tried to act as if I couldn’t see you the first time, but this? Oh, I see you just fine. My response: “Yes, M_____. I read your comment. Twice now. What point, in relationship to K____’s point, are you trying to make?”

Dig me, making a halfway attempt to stay level-headed, skating on the inside edge of my politeness. Because really, your response is to just repeat your nonsense as if I was too dense to understand it the first time, or that perhaps I can’t read well or lack sufficient comprehension skills? Right. But I kept it gentle, still wanting to give this woman a chance to say something that has some meaning, that maybe offers a window into another mindset, that moves this painful conversation forward. Because really, she could have meant any number of things, many of which could have been not at all problematic or derailing. So of course it makes sense to give her a chance to say any of that.

Her response:

I’m not really interested in communicating with you unless we do so over coffee. We don’t know each other, so perhaps it’s best we meet and chat. I really don’t think I want to have a long discussion behind my computer. Things always get lost in translation. We may agree, we may disagree, but via a Facebook post I may be misunderstood and so could you. Good night!

Right.

So yes, she’s 100% correct: we don’t know each other, and these conversations are charged even among friends, and having them anonymously online is neither easy nor ideal. But you know what? If that’s the way you feel, why are you commenting on such a difficult subject from “behind your computer” in the first place? You commented because you a) thought you could put something out there and just leave it and no one would call you on your mess, or b) because you were hoping for someone to agree with you and push back against K____’s nicely-stated point about white privilege and the myth of a post-racial society. Instead you got me, the dreaded option c: Completely seeing the mess, Calling you out, Cordially asking you to explain yourself.

And then you’re suddenly uninterested in talking online. Suddenly you want to have coffee with a stranger so you can be understood … except, of course, that you don’t really want to have coffee with this stranger, because you end your response by closing the door, not suggesting a message or that K____ introduce us or anything that makes your coffee foolishness sound real.

(Which makes that comment read a little differently to me: “I’m  not really interested in communicating with you unless we do so over coffee. We don’t know each other, so perhaps it’s best we meet and chat. I really don’t think I want to have a long discussion behind my computer. Things always get lost in translation. We may agree, we may disagree, but via a Facebook post I may be misunderstood and so could you. Good night!” You know, or something.

Then she deleted the comment and replaced it with: “And note that many of my family members are african american and trying to make a real difference in our society.”

Really. Of course that “trying to make a real difference” is stuck in my teeth. And yeah, some of my best friends …

The words we choose, people. The words we choose. Because she’s right: things get lost in translation. Things like my patience. Lost.

A Smattering of Mattering

Again, people. Again and again, and then again. Today Baltimore. Tomorrow, anywhere. Anywhere. Is that clear yet? You insist on hastagging about “all lives,” insist that this isn’t about race, insist that the problem is the looters, the “thugs” who just make it bad for everyone. You do a lot of insisting. I’m not trying to force anything down your throat. Neither do I want your insistences forced down mine. I just want to breathe. I just want to live. You want me to walk your line, take up your call. Why can’t you shift to my side of that line, why can’t you let yourself say the words, use the tag #BlackLivesMatter? In the multiverse of this history of pain, denial, and erasure, why can’t you see that your “all lives” chant is a crushing blow, a negation, a boot on my throat? Why are you so invested in writing my narrative, in telling me what I should care about, what “really” matters? 

Because when I saw today’s poetry prompt, the first two things that came into my head were — in order: #BlackLivesMatter and “Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Johnny’s so long at the fair.”

Way too long at the fair. Left you home to start figuring out all this racial prejudice stuff on your own. Damn that Johnny.


As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is the final two-for-Tuesday prompt:

  1. Write a matter poem. Matter is what things are made of.
  2. Write an anti-matter poem. The opposite of a matter poem.

You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them?
Let’s share this craziness!

Looking Back

As I sat on the C train headed uptown to a meeting, I was thinking about Samuel, thinking about today’s Poetic Asides prompt, which is to write a looking back poem. As soon as I saw that prompt, I thought of Samuel, and that I needed to write a Samuel poem today. For those who don’t know — which should surely be just about everyone, Samuel is my great grandfather, my mother’s father’s father. Just over a year ago, I was in Cincinnati in the genealogy research library at the Underground Railroad Museum when I found Samuel and a slew of other relatives. Samuel resonated with me in a way I would can’t explain and would not have believed possible. Finding him has inspired a research project and story cycle that I’m beginning to find my way through. And last April I wrote a number of poems about Samuel and the fact of finding him and what that felt like.

So I was sitting on the C train, I looked up and saw a young woman standing in front of me, clutching a book against her chest. The back of the book was facing me, and the first thing I saw was, ” Discovering your true self through the power of your ancestors.” Right. A looking back poem. Of course.

Sankofa

Samuel is carrying me. Through his history, my imagination, my dreams. Slowly and more slowly, shining his light so I may see. I am reaching back, and reaching back, and reaching back. Samuel, my Virgil, translating sign posts, never losing sight of the way home. Whatever I am hoping to find, it cannot be greater than this, than the resonance of Samuel, the void he has blossomed to fill. I let him carry me, let him choose the path. All he asks is that I stay awake, that I watch and listen, that I remember.


As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a “looking back” poem. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them?
Let’s share this craziness!

… except that there kind of is. Looking at the calendar and realizing that April is on her way out allowed me a sigh of relief. I can soon part ways with prose poetry. I’ve written a few things this month that I don’t mind. A couple of things I actually like. Overall, however, this has been a hard slog, and I won’t be sad to see the back of it. It’s not over yet, however. Time to get to work.

Swagger

I am having a moment. Feeling myself. Standing a little taller. Taking up all the space I need, not shying away when the fact of me makes others uncomfortable. I can’t pinpoint a change. It snuck up on me, this audacity, this bien-dans-ma-peau, this ease sweetened with a touch of arrogance. Who am I? And where did I come from? And where have I been all my life?


As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is a fun one:

Take a word or two invented by William Shakespeare, make it the title of your poem, and write your poem. Check out this list of possibles to choose from. Shakespeare was baptized on this date in 1564. Here are a few to get you thinking: advertising, bloodstained, critic, dwindle, eyeball, hobnob, luggage, radiance, and zany. He invented more than 1,700!

You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them?
Let’s share this craziness!

Grounding

Distant Shores

I couldn’t find myself at home. I ran to Europe — France, Italy, Spain, Austria. Isn’t that what people do, what artists do? Germany, Belgium, Holland — in novels, isn’t that the way? Escape your own shore to find a more real you in a country foreign and familiar at once. I ran — England, Scotland, Wales. And that is how brainwashed I was. To Europe? What did I think I’d find there that I didn’t already see at home? If I had to run, it should have been to Benin, to Ghana, to Nigeria, Zimbabwe. What did I think I’d find, chasing strangers’ history, chasing slavers’ history?


As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write an “across the sea” poem. And for today’s poem, I was inspired by my friend Red Emma, who blogs at Rants of the Newly Old.

You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them?
Let’s share this craziness!

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