POEM: We are coming

They came to us with open hands, whip marks 

on their backs, broken shackles on their legs, 

and said, We are human beings. Treat us as such.

 

And some of us said, Yes, you are, and took their hands.

And some of us said, Shut up, nigger, and called for 

the tear gas, the fire hose, the dogs.

 

We came to you with open hands, with flowers 

in our hair, with the words of a preacher, and said, 

We are all human beings. Love is the only way.

 

And some of you said nothing. And some of you said 

tear gas, rubber bullets, Martin on the balcony, 

thirteen unarmed students at Kent State.

 

We come to you in numbers, tears in our eyes, 

signs in our hands, and say, Black Lives Matter, 

justice for Freddie Gray, no more police brutality, 

hands up don’t shoot

 

And some of you still said nothing. And others 

said riot gear, tear gas, rubber bullets, 4-wheel drive 

driving over resistant bodies, torches in the humid night, 

You will not replace us, some very fine people.

 

We come to you with masks on our faces, not 

to hide who we are, but to stave off disease, 

we come to you risking infection, risking 

a death of not being able to breathe, like 

Eric Garner, like George Floyd, we come 

in masses like never before because we have 

no jobs, no protection from the disease, no 

compensation for our losses, no comfort 

in our grief except a man who tear-gasses 

citizens so he can walk a few yards in triumph

and hold over his head before cameras a book 

he has never read, that does not say what 

he thinks it says, we come to you saying 

We the People, and those of you who are not 

still silent, hiding indoors, you say by your actions 

You are the Enemy. We, your neighbors.

 

We are coming for you. Not with weapons, but 

not with flowers, not with violence, neither with 

peace, not the peace you demand, which is order, 

which is death–we are coming for you as the wave 

comes for the shore, shaken by the movement 

of the ocean floor, the turning over in the deep– 

the tsunami wave that pulls back and pulls back 

before it unfolds, breaking down everything in its path.

 

We are coming.

Doing what I can, because I must

I am racist.

I am not a racist. I am not cheering when police commit murder on Black citizens. I am not even insisting that if protesters (especially Black protesters) just assembled peacefully and obeyed the cops, they wouldn’t be rounded up, tear-gassed, shot, arrested.

But I am a white person who grew up in a racist society, a society that was and is sexist and homophobic, transphobic, and generally xenophobic, as well. If I look at myself honestly, I have to acknowledge that. I have to acknowledge that as a white person, I have tremendous privilege, and that I have been socially conditioned to accept that as my due and regard Black people as not really people.

On the other hand, I am also an adult human being, over fifty, who has lived all her life in a racially and culturally diverse city, who has a mind and will of her own. Deep down my heart and my gut reject -isms and othering. I reject the programming that teaches me to regard Blacks as less than human. I choose to be anti-racist. I choose also to be anti-fascist and anti-sexist. I do this as a human being with a conscience, as a white person, as a genderqueer bisexual person, as an American. I choose this stance on the basis of my upbringing as an Episcopalian and on the basis of my values learned from polytheism, from Tibetan Buddhism, from magical practice.

Black lives matter. They matter because they are human lives. They matter in America because much of what is truly American culture, our music, in particular, is Black culture. They matter to me because I have lived near Black people, gone to school with Black people, ridden the bus with Black people, sung in choirs with Black people, waited on and been waited on by Black people, worked with Black people, my entire life. They are my neighbors, co-workers, friends. They are people. Black lives matter.

I am one person and not well known. I don’t have a huge platform. I walk with a cane and can’t stand up without pain for more than five or ten minutes and hate crowds, so I don’t go to protests. To say what I have said here means little, perhaps, but it seemed important to me to say it, as it has seemed important for me to signal boost Black voices on other platforms where I am active, like Facebook and Tumblr. As it has seemed important that I should pray in reponse to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has not conveniently gone away while our putative President waves a Bible in the air and threatens military action against his own citizens, and in response to the protests, the deaths, the brutality of police forces who claim “to serve and protect”, the chicanery of white supremacists infiltrating protests for their own aims, everything, it’s overwhelming, but I pray and I write, because that is what I can best do.

Not just a pretty girl with flowers

Here are two poems I wrote in April 2015, during the Baltimore Uprising after the death of Freddie Gray. The Uprising overlapped the Floralia that year very closely.

Dead boys and pretty flowers

If dead boys still became flowers,
every sidewalk in America
would be split with roots.
In Baltimore, Freddie Gray;
in New York City, Eric Harris;
in Ferguson, Mike Brown.
Brown skin and black hair
and white, human bones
lying everywhere, and not even
a chalk outline: Execution
is no murder. O goddess Flora,
is every flower a death?
is every bloom a tragedy?
Narcissus, Hyacinth, Crocus
joined by Michael, Eric, Freddie,
Trayvon Martin standing with
Polydeukion, young Memnon,
young Achilles. O goddess Flora,
help us make sense, help us
to mourn as well as rejoice
in a world where every flower
is an open vulva, is a dead boy.

A ballad of spring flowers

Flora wears a pretty gown
but her feet are in the mud.
Her hair is twined with flowers
but there’s shit between her toes.
Without manure and mud
her flowers will not grow.
She waters them with blood
if nothing else will flow.

You may dance with Flora
but she’ll outlast your art.
Her feet can never tire
unlike your mortal heart.
But she will not forget you;
she’ll bring flowers from your grave
and wear them when she dances
in her next immortal rave.

Do not curse the goddess
for she is not the cause
of deaths that have no answers
and anger without pause.
The Fates ordained that flowers
should come from shit and mud;
but Flora will weep over them
when they have sprung from blood.