When I hear news of a hitchhiker
struck by lightning yet living,
or a child lifting a two-ton sedan
to free his father pinned underneath,
or a camper fighting off a grizzly
with her bare hands until someone,
a hunter perhaps, can shoot it dead,
my thoughts turn to black people—
the hysterical strength we must
possess to survive our very existence,
which I fear many believe is, and
treat as, itself a freak occurrence.
That season, the tobacco
bloomed early and we hoped
for rain, the ground so dry
and bright it hurt to walk
through grass. Our clothes
grew stiff along the clothesline
and we closed the barn
to ignore the drought,
the new harvest grasping
for color in the dark.
Across the country, the fields
emptied before the crop’s
leaves could spread,
each farm a shadow
of the air’s distortion.
It seemed the heat seized
the land, even us, and we
spoke of water only
Oh, how painfully and recognizably true.
On the day you couldn’t hold yourself together anymore,
you called for me, voice crackling like two sets of knuckles
before an altercation.
I found you, looking like a damaged wine glass.
I hugged your shatter, I cut all of my fingers
trying to jigsaw puzzle you back together.
When it was over,
you looked at the stains on the carpet
and blamed me for making a mess.
missing so many.
Grass River is a snake on the tongue.
You, love, a thousand miles down
the map, many turns. Meanwhile,
I am plunging ahead here through
forget-me-nots, marsh marigolds,
Joe Pye weed, and underneath,
the bright fur of mosses,
moss over moss, tangled, unspoken,
this great green marsh bleeding
Speckled trout line up
like knives under the falls; strings
of moss weave and pull, one
hard pull, everything part-
ing, everything in slits, peaks
of reflected light, teeth, laughter.
If you were here, it would be
just the same, only two,
taking on whole the foreign language
of the birds. It would cling
to nothing in us, and we would still
be hungry together, teeth, tongues.
–Laurie Halse Anderson
idea cracked the seed’s shell
burrowed through the muck
surrounding my self-measured casket
clawed blindly toward light
I can’t stand this
into I can’t stay here
through I should leave
I want to leave
rose into a tidal wave
of I’m going
from The Poet Holds a Gun
The bullet is a simple, adolescent heartache.
When guns go off around you, you wince like a single sheet
and nothing in your body has ever been so simultaneous
not even orgasm which is more like the hungry sea
meeting an Aeolian beach with their sweet
caper storms and lemon trees. An orgasm
has more surface area and salt than a gun.
Losing as Its Own Flower
–Naomi Shihab NyeWhat if we had just said, OK we lose.
How would they have treated us then? I ask my people, they gasp,
and all have different answers.
No, no, we can never give up.
Stay strong, keep speaking truth.
Truth unfolds in the gardens,
massive cabbages, succulent tomatoes,
orange petals billowing,
even when the drought is long.
Hang on tightly to what we have,
though just a scrap. The ancestors would be ashamed
if we gave up. The invaders said our land
was barren and sad.
They said we were anti-Semitic.
But we were Semites too.
What could we do?Giving up is different from losing.
In a way, we did lose. Where is everybody?
Scattered around the world like pollen.
Disappeared into the sunset.
Mingling with other cultures
in the great bubbling stew of the world.
See, we are good at that, why couldn’t we
have done better with our invaders?
They came pretending we were
an alien species. Said they had deep ties here,
some of them did, but what about ours?
Why couldn’t we all have ties?
They said God said.
We replied, See the stone stoop of my house
with my rubbed footprints in it
after all these years?
See my shining key?
They said we made everything up.
We were crazy.
Is losing worse than being called crazy?
So we did lose. We lost our rhythm of regular living.
You want the page to be clean.
The day wide open, nobody suffering.
We lost our bearings, their voices
blew hard on us, trying to erase,
turning us inside out in their minds,
changing what we became.
Tried to make the world see us that way too.
We were the undeserving.
See what people do?
We could live up to their lies if
they made us crazy enough.
So we did lose.
Professors, educated students, best maker of maklouba,
math students of Gaza, embroiderers of the West Bank,
lemon vendors, grapefruit-growers,
artist who stayed in her room painting egg cartons
for so many days, where are you?
(She went to Italy.)
I too dream of Italy, France, Greece.
A village climbing a hill
where I’m not always looking back
over my shoulder,
eyes aren’t tipping to the sides
to catch approaching tanks and jeeps,
but this is my job.
Before speech, a baby makes a cat-cry.
Maybe I knew even then.
To document. To pay attention.
We wore striped T-shirts, they wore camouflage.
To be with my family on our ground.
If you live like a real human being –
that is the issue. Not winning and hunting others.
Not sending your sewage their direction.
Did you know? Did you know they do this?
Not just refusing to lose.