What I Would Give for Surprise

Officer Rusten Sheskey of Kenosha has returned from administrative leave. He will not face any disciplinary action for shooting James Blake.

And it’s Tuesday. A Tuesday like any other. Nothing shocking, nothing out of the ordinary. One more in the forever line of days of being at constant risk in this land of the free (whites) and home of the (trigger happy) brave.

* * *

Let’s talk about Golden Shovels, shall we? I’ve been so tired the last few days, I haven’t had time to think about how hard this form is for me. All I’ve been able to do is churn out a poem and get it posted. I posted a comment earlier that showed me at least part of what the road block is for me with these poems. Yes, having a prescribed set of words and word placement is restrictive. The bigger issue is that the lines I’m using as my source text are from Clifton’s poems. Using them feels rudely audacious and makes me even more self-conscious than I would normally be. So yes, the task I’ve set for myself for this month is specially designed to trip me up. Brilliant!

Despite all of this, I am actually starting to feel more comfortable with the form. Not snuggled in the way I was with the tanka. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that cozy in another form, but I am feeling less like a combatant, less under siege. That’s a good sign, of course, and it’s kind of right on time. It’s usually around the middle of the month that I stop approaching my chosen form as if we’re cage-fighting. It remains to be seen if I can approaching something closer to actual ease with this.

Tonight’s source text is from “the times.”

No Charges

That confidence, safety, certainty is so white,
so very, blindingly white, and
the heat of it burns, glowing, as I
watch it dance, saunter, flaunt its might.
I understand.
I do. I might be the same, except
nothing in this unwelcoming birthplace has afforded me that
freedom, that comfort. Instead, I
have built every good thing I am.
And today what I feel is tired,
as again I spit out a bitter draught of understanding.

National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!

You’re not even trying.

I’m tired. Beat to my fucking socks. Once again hearing Zack de la Rocha’s lyric, like the only song this country will ever want to sing to me: “Don’t you know they’re counting backward to zero?” So damned tired.

The source text for this poem is Lucille Clifton’s “grief.”

Pause

I am thinking of
a number between naught and eternity. Many
stories, many artful shadings of all colors.
Pause --
as we listen for
your revision, your retelling of the
tale. It's your story, your myth.
The reconfiguration of
Black death in Amerikkka.
Pause --
because he thought it was a taser. And pause for
the self-flagellating knife-cuts of our scoffing laughter, for the
rejection of your tired, lazy myth,
for this one more time of you revealing the bloody soul of
Amerikkka.

National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!

Reverberations

So last weekend the news was about Elizabeth Lederer’s decision to stop being a lecturer at Columbia University Law School. It’s a little satisfying, seeing people put in the spotlight, seeing the (at-long-last-and-finally) negative impact caused by the harsh lens of Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries about the Central Park 5, When They See Us. I am glad enough that Lederer won’t be a vaunted lecturer at Columbia’s law school anymore. I am, however, totally not here for her effort to control the narrative, saying she stepped down because she doesn’t want the distraction of publicity to affect the college rather than acknowledging that she has culpability. Notice that the weekend’s headlines aren’t about Lederer being fired.

I read a NYT article from a few years ago, an article written in 2013 after the airing of the Ken and Sarah Burns documentary about the jogger case, and after Frank Chi created an online petition demanding that Columbia fire Lederer from her teaching position. The article acknowledges that Lederer was involved in the perpetration of an injustice, but it clearly faults Chi for wanting her to have to pay any consequences for that involvement.

The five boys who’d been sent to prison were still trying to build lives after the justice system had done everything in its power to destroy them, and the writer of that Times piece was upset that anyone should point a finger at Lederer for her part in that heinous miscarriage of justice.

The writer, Jim Dwyer, says: “The petition against Ms. Lederer, in part, reduces her life in public service to a single moment, the jogger case. In fact, she has a lengthy résumé of unchallenged convictions in cold cases, having pursued investigations of forgotten crimes. No one lives without error. And designating a single villain completely misses the point and power of the documentary. The jogger case belongs to a historical moment, not any one prosecutor or detective; it grew in the soils of a rancid, angry, fearful time.”

Could he really have been serious? Does he really believe that, because she tried other cases that didn’t involve harming innocent people, that we should forget about what she did in this case, in this case in which she participated in the destruction of five innocent boys’ childhoods, in this case which impacted the families of each of these innocent boys? He says “the jogger case belongs to a historical moment,” as if we weren’t, at the exact moment he was writing that line, living in the reality of a system that regularly brutalized Black and brown people. Ferguson wouldn’t become a national flashpoint for another year, but it’s not as though anyone actually trying to look would have been able to miss the simple fact that the justice system treats Black and brown folks unjustly on the regular.

And even if we really could consign the jogger case to history, why should that mean the people who carried out that hideousness should be allowed to thrive and make money, in part because they point to their success in that case? Chi was absolutely right to call for Lederer’s dismissal. Columbia didn’t listen, though. Not then and not in the years since then when students at the school made the same call. Only now, in the wake of When They See Us being the most streamed show in Netflix history, are any dominoes falling — or, more accurately, are some dominoes falling and a few others removing themselves from the game.

 

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to watch When They See Us. I knew a) it would be painful, b) it would be enraging, and c) that I wouldn’t be able to sleep well after watching because d) my brain wouldn’t be able to stop running through the story, through all the moments when people in power could have decided another way, through all the moments when one or another of those innocent children was harmed.

I finally watched on Sunday. I went to a friend’s house and we watched together. We watched two episodes, took a short break, then watched the final two. She drove me to the train and I made my way home. I stayed up awhile, even though it was already late and I had an early meeting Monday morning. I was afraid to go to sleep, certain I would dream the worst parts of the show.

I didn’t dream the show, but I didn’t fall asleep right away, either. I couldn’t … because, every time I closed my eyes, my brain did what I’d known it would: began running through the moments of choice in the story, through the moments of casual brutality. I tried thinking about other things, tried reading a book, tried playing games on my phone. No good.

I did finally sleep. I had an equally hard time sleeping Monday night. I’m practically a zombie right now, running on a combined total of about 5 hours of sleep in 72 hours. I will probably have this same issue for several nights to come.

If I can’t sleep, and I am 100 percent not culpable of anything in this case, how do the people entirely responsible sleep? How have they been able to live their lives without remorse? I don’t make room for the possibility that they honestly believed they had served justice. There is no chance they aren’t guilty of pushing children into harm’s way to benefit themselves: to resolve a terrible crime … and to feed a popular narrative that enabled them to build and strengthen their own careers by showing how tough on crime they were, how skillfully they could win high-profile cases.

I don’t feel any kind of sorry for Fairstein or Lederer. I’m also not surprised that the primary fallout from the show (so far?) has centered on women. That’s predictable and problematic, but it doesn’t make me feel sorry for these two. Not at all.

Rather, I want everyone with dirt on their hands to suffer blowback. All the cops who beat and lied and terrorized confessions into those children.? The cops who decided to scoop up Korey Wise because he was 16 and they could do what they wanted with him without calling his mother. Every person along the way who saw lies being constructed and put their heads down and let it happen. Every prison guard and inmate who harmed Korey Wise during his years of incarceration. I want every single last one of the people connected to the criminalization and brutalization of those five children to face consequences. It’s good that Lederer and Fairstein don’t get to keep making money off the unforgivable thing they did, but it’s not enough. Do I sound like some raging angel of vengeful retribution? I am truly okay with that.

After Chi’s online petition took off six years ago, Chi asked Ken Burns to sign on. That was a no-go: “Burns said […] he and the other filmmakers wanted nothing to do with the campaign. “It is just simple retribution, and we are appalled by it,” he said. “We don’t subscribe to any of it.”” It was simple retribution. Yes. Exactly. Why not? Lederer had used her success in that trial to burnish her reputation. She benefited directly from the harm done to those boys. Retribution sounds entirely correct. But Burns couldn’t let himself get too close to that. It might get in the way of his ability to keep making documentaries and winning accolades for his compelling historical narratives. (He’s made 10 documentaries since 2013. That isn’t a gravy train you’d want to stop.) I obviously have no idea what Burns was thinking when he made that comment about the “fire Lederer” petition, but how could he have dug into the case and seen what was done, yet not felt that Lederer and everyone else involved had a price to pay?

And now, in response to When They See Us, New York City’s Public Advocate, the Legal Aid Society, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, and the New York County Defender Services have called on Manhattan’s District Attorney to a) fire Elizabeth Lederer, who continues to work as a prosecutor for the City, and b) reopen and re-investigate sex crime cases that were handled by Lederer and Fairstein between 1976 and 2002. The Manhattan DA has said that the jogger casewas a profound injustice” … but he has no intention of doing anything about it, at least not anything like holding “an attorney in good standing” on his team accountable for her part in that tragedy.

Lederer won’t get a bonus check for lecturing at Columbia anymore. Her choice. Columbia didn’t fire her. She still has her well-paid job with the City. She’s fine and she’s going to be fine. Fairstein can run around slandering Ava DuVernay, skating on the edge of calling that woman out of her name. Her books will still sell. She’ll write new ones and some publisher is going to pick her up. She’s pissy right now, but she’ll be fine.

Yeah. I mean, I’m not at all surprised, but I’m entirely disgusted.

Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, and Yusef Salaam. We don’t call their names at Black Lives Matter events. Of course not. They are all still alive. They have all managed to grow up and make lives. Thank God. But there’s no question but that the child in each of them was killed in 1989.

 


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

original-slicer-girlgriot

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday! Click over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the other slicers are up to!

Our Lives Hold No Value

[Content warning: violence, state violence, police killings of Black women]

Korryn Gaines. Say her name.

Is there still any question
that our lives hold no value to the police?
At moments like this,
I think of Korryn Gaines, I think of her son.

Our lives hold no value to the police.
Gaines son, five years old,
I think of Korryn Gaines, I think of her son.
Police knew he was at his mother’s side.

Gaines’ little boy, only five years old,
saw police kill his mother, saw them try to kill him.
Police knew he was at his mother’s side.
His presence didn’t impact their decision to go in shooting.

He saw police kill his mother, try to kill him.
What his mother told him about the police proved true.
His presence didn’t impact officers’ decision to go in shooting.
Our lives hold no value to the police.

What Korryn Gaines said about the police proved true.
They took her ability to broadcast, then killed her in secret.
Our lives hold no value to the police,
they were determined to gun Gaines down.

Police took Gaines’ on-air voice, then killed her in secret.
There to serve a traffic warrant, they decided the sentence was death.
They were determined to gun Gaines down,
and made sure their actions weren’t caught on tape.

There to serve a traffic warrant, they decided the sentence was death.
A young mother, gunned down in front of her baby.
They made sure their actions weren’t caught on tape.
Nothing else mattered.

A young mother, gunned down in front of her baby
because she had the nerve to fear and distrust the police.
Nothing else mattered
except taking her out, punishing her audacity.

She had the nerve — the intelligence — to fear and distrust the police,
and they proved her right,
taking her out, killing her as punishment for her audacity,
for a traffic violation.

They proved Gaines right
and proved it to her son by shooting him, too.
For a traffic violation.
They couldn’t have cared any less for that woman or that baby.

They showed Gaines’ son that his mama had been right —
they wanted to shoot her, wanted to shoot him, and they did.
They couldn’t have cared less for the welfare of that woman or that baby.
Gaines and her son’s lives had no value.

They wanted to shoot Korryn Gaines and her son, and they did.
That baby has learned his lesson.
His life had no value to the police.
He’ll know it for the rest of his life.

That little boy learned a horrific lesson,
his mother murdered before his eyes.
He’ll know it for the rest of his life.
The wounds will scab over, but will they heal?

I think of Korryn Gaines’ son. Will he heal?


Pantoum — A poem of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. The final line can be a repeat of the first line of the poem.

Say Her Name — A movement calling attention to police violence against Black women, girls and femmes. Fill the void. Lift your voice. Say her name.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every April for almost the full life of this blog, I have taken on the challenge of writing a poem a day. A year or so in, I upped the ante ton the challenge and decided to choose a specific poetry form each year and write that form for the month — 30 tanka, 30 rhyme royals, etc. It’s been a hard slog most years, as I struggle mightily with writing poetry, with feeling “allowed” to try writing poetry. So why make it harder by adding onto the base 30/30 challenge? Well, that’s kind of who I am, isn’t it? I continue.

napomo 1

Her Last Breath

[Content warning: violence, state violence, police killings of Black women]

Shereese Francis. Say her name.

Imagine the terror of running through your house
chased by four police officers,
when you’ve done nothing wrong,
when what you need is mental health care.

Chased by four police officers,
Shereese Francis must have been terrified.
She needed mental health care
but instead received brutality.

Shereese Francis must have been terrified.
Does “Protect and serve” only go for white folks?
Shereese Francis received brutality.
Her life squeezed out as she lay face down on a bed.

Is “Protect and Serve” only for white folks?
It certainly wasn’t on offer for Shereese Francis
as her last breath was squeezed from her body.
One more beautiful life taken.

There was no protection or service for Shereese Francis,
only the loss of her last breaths under the weight of four cops.
One more beautiful life taken.
Keep that count grinding down to zero.

The loss of her last breath under the weight of four cops.
Imagine Shereese’s desperation and fear
as the count kept grinding down to zero.
One more beautiful life taken.

One more beautiful life taken.


Pantoum — A poem of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. The final line can be a repeat of the first line of the poem.

Say Her Name — A movement calling attention to police violence against Black women, girls and femmes. Fill the void. Lift your voice. Say her name.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every April for almost the full life of this blog, I have taken on the challenge of writing a poem a day. A year or so in, I upped the ante ton the challenge and decided to choose a specific poetry form each year and write that form for the month — 30 tanka, 30 rhyme royals, etc. It’s been a hard slog most years, as I struggle mightily with writing poetry, with feeling “allowed” to try writing poetry. So why make it harder by adding onto the base 30/30 challenge? Well, that’s kind of who I am, isn’t it? I continue.

napomo 1