Friday, February 27, 2015

Poem of the Week: Roger Reeves

Self-Portrait as Vincent Van Gogh
in the Asylum at Arles

The moths in the orchard squeal
with each pass of the mistral wind.
Yet the reapers and their scythes,
out beyond the pear trees, slay wheat
in sure columns. Christ
must have been made of shocks
of wheat. When they lashed him,
four bundles of fine yellow burst forth
from each welt. And the women,
tarrying as they do now behind the swing
and chuff of the reapers' blades,
gathered and plaited the stray pieces
of wheat falling from his hips into braids,
long braids that would bind a tattered sail-
cloth over his yellow mouth, yellow feet.
Oh to be bound by one's own blood
like a burlap sack cinched around the neck
with a leather belt. Father forgive me
for the moths shrieking in the orchard
of my mouth. Forgive the rattle and clatter
of wings inside the blue of my brain.
Even if these iron bars queer a field,
queer a woman standing too close to a reaper's blade,
a half-moon hung and wholly harsh,
even if this woman, burdened like a spine
carrying a head and a basket of rocks,
forgets the flaw of a well-sharpened tool,
let her not mistake my whimper and warning
for the honk of a goose in heat. Father,
she is not made like our savior,
of straw, of a coarse tender. Nothing will stop
when her blood runs along a furrow.
The sun will not sag with a red scowl.
The field will not refuse water. Father,
I am unsure of what I am-
a fragrant mistral wind or a pile of moths' heads
at the foot of a pear tree. Father,
give me a scythe. Father, let me decide.

* * *
From King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013).
Used with permission.

* * *
Roger Reeves's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Poetry, Poetry, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, and Tin House, among others. Reeves was awarded a 2014-2015 Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a 2014 Pushcart Prize, a 2013 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and 2008 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, King Me, his first book of poems, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2013. King Me has been awarded the 2014 Larry Levis Reading Prize by the creative writing program at Virginia Commonwealth University and the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award. He is an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

* * * 
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Friday, February 20, 2015

Poem of the Week: Peter J. Harris

Photo by Adenike A. Harris 

Don't Even Pretend
(The Saturn Poem)

From the Washington Post - November 13, 1980:

PASADENA, CALIF., -- "It defies the laws or orbital mechanics as I understand them but two components of the fifth ring out are braided," said Dr. Bradford Smith of the University of Arizona, one of the scientists gathered at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to study photographs being transmitted from [Voyager I]. "If the distribution of these braids is uniform around the entire ring then there are as many as 1,000 braids in the ring."

Not only is the fifth ring in braids, Smith said, but the 500-mile long braids appear to have kinks in them. Smith said that as bizarre as the braids are the kinks are even more bizarre. "If you look closely, you see abrupt bends in the braids, as if somebody took the surface and bent it," Smith said. "I don't even pretend to understand what this means."

Saturn's rings was all nappy
spread out from her head
like she just woke up
took a shower & aint dried them yet
dread locks
cluttered with moons/meteors/mysteries
so God, She said:

" you know
I can't let you be orbiting round me
looking like that. suppose we have company.
what they gon think of me?"

God took off from work
unscrewed Her Afro Sheen jar
washed Her comb & pick
sat under constellations
& told Saturn to sit on the space
between Her legs.

"honey, I got to plait your rings
even if I miss a day's pay."

      God got to cornrowing Saturn's rings

aint nothing more coaxing than God's hands
spreading each ring into 3 strands
sifting through rocks that was worlds eons ago
She finger Afro Sheen down the part
softening scalp/loosening crusty moons
stuck in orbit
She start humming Nina Simone
while threading wisdom down each row

"here comes the sun
little darlin
here comes the sun..."

hands so knowing
they tug/twist/twirl those knotty rings
& Saturn don't whine
just listen to the lyrics
& feel tight lightness
creeping along her scalp
down her back into infinity
Saturn close her eyes
& feel peaceful
like when God rubbed Her palms
for the sixth time & rolled rings
from the swirls in the fingerprints
of each hand

"here comes the sun
little darlin
here comes the sun..."

God weave bright beads, baubles & shells
yellow curves/purple swoops/blue loops
decorate the arcs spreading now
like the stiff necklaces
around the throats of Masai sisters

"there child. I'm finished!
my my, you look like a magic pinwheel
gracing space. Here, look in my corona
& see how pretty you are."

God hum & sigh
She got to rest these few more hours
work again tomorrow
smiling early from the east
glinting off Saturn's rings
like a fawn darting quenched from a water hole
and back into the forest

From Bless the Ashes, poetry (Tia Chucha Press/Northwestern, 2014).
Used with permission.
Photo by Adenike A. Harris.

Peter J. Harris is a native of Southeast DC and an alumnus of Ballou High School and Howard University. He is the author of Bless the Ashes, poetry (Tia Chucha Press), and The Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My 'Unalienable Right,' a book of personal essays. He has published his work in a wide variety of publications since the 1970s. Since 1992, he's been a member of the Anansi Writers Workshop at the World Stage, in LA's Leimert Park. Visit his website at:


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Friday, February 13, 2015

Poem of the Week: Ailish Hopper


Ways to be White in a Poem

Tension makes
a form resound

and so the many lines I am told
not to cross

Do not go out alone at night
Do not call attention to yourself

Closer to the color line
the more I am
            White girl


It is a while before
the other girls

correct me, gently. Good timbre needs
more air
          Shout out!

Muscles flex, quick-shift
          I stomp, impious

impervious, now

Do not dance suggestively
Hold a stranger’s eyes

That first day in the gym
I asked the row

Could I
about cheers

elbows sharp, foregrounded

feet, cloud-
Never of
A cheer

as the body 
went up
As if I were.        Were not

Branch creaking
Rope taut

And, maybe you, too---
whoever you are---reading this


Do not touch
Or eat

Their food
Do not drink

From the same cup
From Dark~Sky Society (Western Michigan University, 2014). Used with permission.

Ailish Hopper grew up in DC, and is the author of Dark~Sky Society (2014), selected by David St. John as runner up for the New Issues prize, and the chapbook Bird in the Head (2005), selected by Jean Valentine for the Center for Book Arts Prize. Individual poems have appeared in Agni, APR, Blackbird, Harvard Review Online, Ploughshares, Poetry, Tidal Basin Review, and other places. She has received support from the Baltimore Commission for the Arts and Humanities, the MacDowell Colony, Maryland State Arts Council, and Yaddo. Her essays on art and literature that deal with race have appeared in or are forthcoming in Boston Review, The Volta, and the anthology,A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race. She is currently at work on an essay about imagining the world after the reign of white supremacy. She teaches at Goucher College.


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Friday, February 6, 2015

Poem of the Week: Bettina Judd

December 1845

Lucy didn’t scream like most.  Though sometimes she 
would moan--deep,   long   and   overdue.     I’d wake 
thinking death. It’s her, knees curled under, head face 
down, her body trying to move out of itself. Anarcha 
and  I  take  turns  wiping  her  head  with  cool  rags, 
warming her feet with our hands, singing to her. She 
would join  in  a  voice  so  low  it wasn't like she was 
singing at all but whispering a prayer that hushed on 
long after we finished.

Doctor spent a lot of time with Lucy. He would stand 
at the foot of her bed looking. Not mad    just like he 
had a whole lot of questions and wanted answers from 
her. I had questions too, so I looked to Anarcha.

She thought a long time.   Finally said, She too sick to 
die.  We too well to be living.

From Patient (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). Used with permission.
Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. 

Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern California, Bettina Judd is an interdisciplinary writer, artist, and performer. She is an alumna of Spelman College and the University of Maryland, and is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at the College of William and Mary. She has received fellowships from the Five Colleges, The Vermont Studio Center, and the University of Maryland. She is a Cave Canem Fellow and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in poetry. Her poems have appeared in Torch, Mythium, Meridians, and other journals and anthologies. Most recently, her collection of poems titled Patient. won the Black Lawrence Press Hudson Book Prize and was published in November of 2014. As a singer, she has been invited to perform for audiences in Vancouver, Washington DC, Atlanta, Paris, New York, and Mumbai.


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Friday, January 30, 2015

Poem of the Week: Julie Enszer

Zyklon B

Where should one draw the line?
. . . the line is very clearly Zyklon B.

The painters call before we move into the new house. Ma'am, they say-
I am not old enough to be a ma'am, but I don't correct them-
Ma'am, they say, we smell gas.
I dismiss their concern. I say, Keep painting.
I say, You are already two weeks behind schedule.

Five days after we move in, I wake up sick. I vomit.
Gas filled our house. We open all the windows,
call the utility company. The stove regulator isn't working.
It can't be fixed. We buy a new Frigidaire.

This is what I know of life:
Love fiercely, even recklessly;
Laugh loudly, even raucously;
Risk everything, at least once;
Live openly, without abandon;
Build trust, be honest;
Buy American.

A year later our washing machine breaks.
I want a new German one-small, sleek, stylish.
I tell my wife, It is perfect for the kitchen.
Our washer and dryer are in the kitchen.
My wife says, They built the ovens.
We buy a new Frigidaire.

Degesch, a company affiliated with Degussa,
based in Dusseldorf,
is the world's largest maker of specialty chemicals.
Degussa has an exemplary record
of examining the wartime past,
making restitution to victims. Still
The Memorial Foundation for the Murdered Jews of Europe
rejects a subcontract for Degussa.
Degesch manufactured gas pellets: Zyklon B.

This is what I know of gas:
May you never make a mistake that cannot be corrected.
May you never take an action that cannot be forgotten.


From Sisterhood (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013).
Used with permission.
Photo by Stephan Declue.


Julie R. Enszer, PhD, is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Women's Studies at the University of Maryland. She is the author of Sisterhood (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013) and Handmade Love (A Midsummer Night's Press, 2010). She is editor oMilk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry (A Midsummer Night's Press, 2011).Milk & Honey was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. She has her MFA and PhD from the University of Maryland. She is the editor of Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal, and a regular book reviewer for the Lambda Book Report and Calyx. You can read more of her work at


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Monday, January 26, 2015

Poems that Resist Police Brutality & Demand Racial Justice - Post #16

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 offered our blog as a Virtual Open Mic, open to all who responded to our call for Poems that Resist Police Brutality and Demand Racial Justice. The poems below were submitted in response to that call. All of the submitted poems in this and previous posts were delivered to the Department of Justice on January 23, 2015 and the call for submissions is now closed. To see photos of the reading, demonstration and delivery of the poems, visit Split This Rock's Flickr account.

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.


Justice for Joy
by Delroi Williams

Full of the self importance given by a number and rank
Enforced by legislation designed to deny the right to reside
In a land built on the sweat of her peers and foreparents
Supported by 500 years of might is right, ignorance rules OK!

            Yuh push she down
            Gag she mouth
            Till blackout! Blackout!
            Blacks out! Blacks out!

Another case warranting closer inspection
Fails the detection of truth. Court codes
Spell remorseless, one more less, no rest
For you people, this place is just a sojourn

            Well jus in case yuh feelseh
            We’d ah let it pass
            Don the mask of silence forget
            Fullness, watch this space

One beautiful race together in joy to overcome the sorrow of a
Brutal depart’yah
A campaign to end the veins of our family being cut any more
To heal the scars of your society’s mad and vain attempt to stop the black
From flowing, every growing, changing this sad cold place into

            Little Jamaica
            Little Barbados
            Little St Kitts
            Little Nigeria
            Little Somalia
            Little Ghana

We still ah come!
Echoes the cries of children deprived of mothers
Mothers deprived of sons, sisters deprived of brothers
Brothers deprived of brothers, sisters, fathers, sons and mothers

We still ah come!

An’ any fool know the rule of law;
A Jamaican woman’s home is fe’she yard
Nuh badda enter widout a welcome
An’ nuh raise yuh voice, muchless yuh han’

Only a pig would ignore this, insist she leave, without due cause
That her resistance was excessive, warranted a dumb death
Another stifled voice on the other side of the waters
But we’ll neva stop beat feet to de riddim
Sing songs of remembrance until we receive Justice for Joy

*Note: Joy Gardner was killed by police, by being bound and gagged, at her home in, London, England, 1983. The Police had tried to serve a a deportation notice, as she had overstayed her visa. When Ms. Gardner resisted the police forcibly gagged and bound her with 13 ft. of tape, leading her to fall into a coma, from which she later died.


The Evidence
By Camisha L. Jones

There was a gun
There was a cop
There was a Black boy

The Black boy had no gun
The Black boy had
      His skin
      His breath
      His hands
The Black boy had enough

For the cop to be afraid

The Black boy ran
The Black boy ran
The Black boy ran

The cop chased
The cop was not chased

The cop had
      a gun
      a badge
      a car
The cop had fear
It leaned into his car
Ugly words all in its mouth
Strong arms bruising his thinking

About the boy

The cop said
The kid’s hands were thieves
The kid’s hands were violent
The kid’s hands forgot how history stutters new names
At the trigger of white men’s fear

They say that evidence
Doesn’t change
That evidence is fact

They say the boy is dead
And that is a fact
They say the cop had a right to deadly force
And that is another kind of fact

They never say
The boy was afraid
That fear put running in his legs

They say the child with no gun
Rushed toward the cop
And the cop saw the darkest brutality
Growing in the guilt of his skin

They say the kid forgot
What his momma taught him ‘bout
Black boys and police officers
They say the cop had a right to his fear

No one is sure where the boy’s hands were
Some say the boy
Had his hands up
Had his hands over his head
Had his hands in front of him,
Palms up, ready to receive

What we know is
His hands were his hands
His hands had nothing in them
His hands couldn’t hold him to this life
Or innocence

What we know is
The cop was afraid
And the kid was
And Black

The cop held his fear
Like the weapon it is
In this land of liberty and amnesia
And the gun
It knew the boy
Like any precious prey
Would run


America’s Unconstitutional Grill
by Bob McNeil 

Near the counter,
    One seat away from a guy named Uncle Sam,
    I sat in America’s Unconstitutional Grill,
    Notorious for its discrimination special.
    Recollections took my psyche traveling
    Throughout gripped and whipped generations.                                   
    I remembered Sam’s culture-ramming family
    Capturing my kin
    And reducing them to abused horses
    In a round pen.
My temper went from a semiautomatic pistol
    To a ballistic missile.  
    Around then
    My anger could have leveled
    America’s Unconstitutional Grill. 
Right before my left was going to punch Sam
    So his teeth would meet a dirt heap                                  
    Beneath some table’s feet,                                   
    Noncaucasian children came in.
    They ordered cheeseburgers.
     A sour-cream-demeanoured waitress,
     Wearing a hairnet,
     Said, “The Grill did not get
    The School Budget Tomato Sauce yet.”
Judging from the way
     Their liveliness took a graveyard turn,   
     Noncaucasian children did learn
     Unconcern made their meals burn.     
According to other Noncaucasian patrons,
    There was not much pepper
    In the House and Senate stew.  
    Noncaucasian patrons spat discontent
    Over the cop-frisked pork biscuits 
    Accompanying assorted penal-smelly vittles. 
Seconds from leaving America’s Unconstitutional Grill,
    Despite my refusal to select a speck,
    The waitress tossed me a check. 
    After I tabulated
    Subjugation's cost,
    I told the ashy cashier,
    “Get the damn owners to atone
    And reimburse for every year
    My people spent here.” 


Black Lives Matter
by Liliana Hernandez

It’s 2015 and I want to stop counting

The names of all those that we have lost
The travyon martin,
Eric garner,
Tamir rice
In unnecessary murders committed by the police.

I want to stop counting that
There were 593 people killed by police last year
And 108 homicides in DC.

Its time to stop counting and to start demanding accountability
We have taken to the streets, closed traffic on the 14th st bridge, blocked trains in Baltimore, paraded on the streets of all the major cities in this nation
Stating Black Lives matter

This is our time to stand up
to count every voice to say
why black lives matter
because we are here today to change this world
we are going to fight to get guns off of our street, drugs out of our community,
we are going to fight to hold all citizens accountable for murder, including the police,
we will stand up to the NRA and say more guns are not the answer.
We will stand up to our city officials and demand affordable housing and homes for all our homeless that are on the city streets
And we will demand from all businesses that living wage jobs are available to all DC residents.
This is our time to stand up and make our voice heard
Because its 2015, and I’m done with counting the names of the lives we have lost.

It’s 2015, and we will love all our young black and brown brothers and sisters, and we will create communities of courage that we are all proud to live in. 
It’s 2015, and its time to make our voices heard.


by J.M.

“This movie can’t be about race.” - Danez Smith
It can’t be about the Black teen with dreams and aspirations born in the wrong neighborhood.
It can’t be about the sexy Latina who is never going to become a doctor because she is just a sex image.
It can’t be about African American children growing up without their fathers.
It can’t be about Black people and Latinos fighting over streets and white people living in gated communities.
It can’t be about family problems because of an interracial relationship.


by Jai-Anna Carter

“I want a scene where a cop car gets pooped on by a Pterodactyl, a scene where the corner store turns into a battle ground.” - Danez Smith

Why should my brother be shot down at the local corner store, whether by police or an unmindful being. Every life counts. Put your guns away & save your bullets for nourishment, make this a memorable one, go to the corner store & offer advice, something to save a life, even the binge drinker will listen, the cashier with five kids making ends meet will listen, the young boy who is surrounded by gangs will listen, just my brother will listen, that young boy who could be you, giving advice one day.


by Anonymous

We are who we see
Thick hips, long legs
Long hair, manicured feet
Strong Black woman on the outside
Weak little girls on the inside

The Big Screen depicts skewed views
Society accepts what is viewed
The stereotypes of loud, ignorant
half-clothed women
As for aspiration, they haven’t a clue

We are more than what you see on the big screen
We can better influence our young
Better roles in Hollywood is a start
But it all starts at home
Let’s start building better black women from the inside out.


by Colin

Why do people judge by the color of people’s skin? Why not judge by their compassion & life?

Why kill them because of their skin? Why kill them for things worth killing them for; killing,
stealing & other stuff.

A man once told me “Let freedom ring!”

so let it ring.