Aug 13 2014

Poem of the Day: Death in Yorkville by Langston Hughes

Death In Yorkville
(James Powell, Summer, 1964)

by Langston Hughes

How many bullets does it take
To kill a fifteen-year-old kid?
How many bullets does it take
To kill me?

How many centuries does it take
To bind my mind — chain my feet –
Rope my neck — lynch me –
Unfree?

From the slave chain to the lynch rope
To the bullets of Yorkville,
Jamestown, 1619 to 1963:
Emancipation Centennial —
100 years NOT free.

Civil War Centenntial: 1965
How many Centennials does it take
To kill me,
Still alive?

When the long hot summers come
Death ain’t
No jive.

Jul 15 2014

Poem of the Day: Separation

Audre Lorde

Separation

The stars dwindle
they will not reward me
even in triumph.

It is possible
to shoot a man
in self defense
and still notice
how his red blood
decorates the snow.

1972

Jul 06 2014

Poetry Interlude: The Courtroom

A classic…

Jun 24 2014

Poem of the Day: To Timberly, From Her 16 Year Old Daughter

by Amaryllis Moleski

by Amaryllis Moleski

Dear Mom,

I love you very much, even though we haven’t had the greatest relationship.
I sometimes get angry when I think of all the years we have been separated.
I love you very much and wouldn’t trade you for anything.
I know it’s not your fault and I don’t blame you.
I just hope and pray that I will be able to spend more time than once or twice a year with the mom I love and adore.
Always remember I love you and never forget it.
And when you are in rehab and you feel like no one cares and you are not going to make it just remember what I am writing in this letter and I love you.

Love, your daughter,
Latoya

Source: Writers’ Block: The Voices of Women Inside (Women and Prison Program, Beyondmedia Education)

Jun 18 2014

Poem of the Day: I Am Human

I Am Human
by Tammica Summers

I am an inmate
The result of a mistake
But I am human first

This is not my fate
The effects make me shake
But it could always be worse

I am real just like you
Even though I wear blue
I have eyes I can see
My soul cries and my spirit is free

I am just as human as you are
It might be a stretch of your imagination
But can you try to reach that far?

I bleed like every human does
And sometimes I cry just because

Some days I have are good
And some days are bad
Some days I wish I could
Have a better life than what I had

I am an inmate
But I am human like you
I am now property of the state
But was once free like you

I am not an animal in the zoo
I am human just like you
When I’m scared I long to be held
And in so many ways I am frail

Man has sentenced me to shame
And put me in this Hell
And branded with this name
That you think you know so well

But do you really know me?
I’ve been conveniently moved from society
Forced into this virtual reality
But until I die I will always be
A human like you — part of humanity

Source: Bound Struggles, Number Seven (Chicago Books to Women in Prison)

Jun 09 2014

Standing on a Soapbox, Calling Out the Cops…

I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one.

Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)

Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)

On an overcast afternoon, on a concrete island at the intersection of Ashland, Milwaukee and Division, I joined a couple dozen people (mostly young) who were reading/performing poetry in opposition to state violence.

I was invited to say a few words, so I did. I shared words written by Langston Hughes and AI. I added a few of my own too.

On Friday, Damo was laid to rest. I planned to attend the funeral but in the end I was unable due to a previous commitment. It’s just as well. I hate funerals. I despise them especially when the person being buried is in his early 20s.

So I stood on a real soapbox and in memory of Damo & others who are victims of state violence, I shared two poems. Here are a few lines from one by Langston Hughes:

Three kicks between the legs
That kill the kids
I’d make tomorrow.

I’ll admit to actively suppressing any thoughts of a young man being tased (twice) and hitting his head so hard that he was basically brain dead when he arrived at the hospital. How does this happen? Then I remember the disposability and un-humanness of black and brown people. I know how this happens. I am a witness but I’d rather not be.

Ethan spoke before me. No, that’s not actually true, Ethan bled before me. I watched with others transfixed by his words and his pain. I hoped that it was catharsis towards healing. But I don’t know how young black men can heal in the midst of continuing, continual, unrelenting violence. Is this possible?

The title of the gathering organized by members of the Chicago Revolutionary Poets Brigade was ‘No Knock’ An Artistic Speak-Out Against the ‘American Police State.’ The title is inspired by Gil Scott Heron’s poem “No Knock.”

No knocked on my brother Fred Hampton
Bullet holes all over the place
No knocked on my brother Michael Harris
And jammed a shotgun against his skull

It is as it ever was. No knocked on Damo who is now six feet under ground.

Passersby stopped to listen as various people read poems about Guantanamo, police violence, prisons, surveillance, and more. Audre was right: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” There is magic in hearing voices speaking out for justice over the din of a bustling city. You had to be there to understand what I mean. Gathering as a collective to recite poetry can’t end state violence but it does keep our spirits up so that we can demand and fight for more justice. It does help to “give name to the nameless so that it can be thought.” And now more than ever we need the words and we need to be able to think through that which cannot be thought. These are revolutionary acts in our time.

Over the next few weeks, I will be working with others to strategize and organize around the epidemic of police violence experienced by our young people of color in Chicago. I don’t know what will come of our discussions but I am sure that nothing will change unless we change it.

I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one. I read some poems including “Endangered Species” by AI.

At some point, we will meet
at the tip of the bullet,
the blade, or the whip
as it draws blood,
but only one of us will change,
only one of us will slip
past the captain and crew of this ship
and the other submit to the chains
of a nation
that delivered rhetoric
in exchange for its promises.

I hope that you find your own soap box. I mean a real one and read some poems, calling out the cops…

Jun 08 2014

Poem of the Day: Why I Cry

Why I Cry
by Sharee M (Free Write Jail Arts Program)

I cry because so many thoughts
go through my mind.
I cry when I feel that I have been mistreated
I cry so that someone could come and comfort me
I cry so that things could go my way
I cry when I feel that everything’s over
I cry when I think about what I should have done
instead of doing time
I cry for a second chance
so that I could be something
I cry when I think about
when would I see my family again
I cry because I have not found myself
I cry for the family who lost a loved one
I cry for not going with my first mind, the right one
I cry because bricks surround me
I cry because I am in a box
I cry because I am not free

(Source: Big Dream I’m Chasing, Free Write Jail Arts Anthology Vol 6)

Apr 24 2014

The Young and Unmoored…

Ten days ago I got news that I didn’t feel ready to process until today. A young man I’ve known since he was a teenager was shot in Florida. I’ve come to dread phone calls at any time of day, most especially those that come late in the night. I’ve struggled to find the perfect ringtone to allay my anxiety. I’ve been unsuccessful.

So when my phone rang a few days ago and I saw that it was past midnight and that I didn’t recognize the number, I steeled myself for bad news. I answered with trepidation. It was the young man’s cousin and he said that Julian (not his real name) was shot while sitting in a parked car. It was a case of mistaken identity. After an uncertain prognosis, he recovered after surgery. A couple of days ago, I finally had a chance to hear his voice which was a relief.

I wrote about Julian a few years ago in this post:

I wanted to relay a story about a young man who I have been working with for the past few months. He has been struggling greatly since his release from prison in March of this year. He is ill-equipped for “life on the outside” as he likes to say. He is easily angered and raises his voice to make mundane points. Any suggestion is perceived as a criticism and a slight. His favorite word to use is “respect” and yet he has a difficult time showing any for others. I am not telling tales out of school since everything that I am writing about him, I have also expressed directly to him (more than once).

The Prisoner by Werner Drewes, Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Prisoner by Werner Drewes, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about integrity and grit from Julian. He chides me for being “too nice” and he worries that I’m going to get “run over” by people. I remind him that I am a grown woman in my 40s while he’s barely out of his teens. I can and do take care of myself. He says that he’s already lived two lifetimes. I don’t argue because I know something about the trials and struggles that he’s had to face and to try to overcome.

I’ve been reflecting lately on the young people who live in the world, unmoored. The ones who seem to be passing through and don’t have any expectations of staying for long. I’ve been thinking about the young people who resist ‘counseling’ because they know that their thoughts and behaviors are rational within the context of their worlds. Julian is one of the unmooored. And if I’m honest, I hold my breath for him every day, afraid that to exhale means he might disappear.

What do you do with a young person who resists the inspirational script of overcoming all adversity? What do you do with a young person who never had any bootstraps and won’t pretend that any amount of work on his part will provide them? What do you do?

We rode on the EL together once and Julian spoke with a booming voice throughout the trip. I asked him to lower his voice. He looked at me for a moment and kept loud-talking. I was embarrassed at his display and felt disrespected that he ignored my request. As soon as we got off the EL, his voice returned to its normal decibel level. Once I got over my anger, I asked why he spoke so loudly on the train. His response: “I want them uncomfortable and they need to know that I was here.” My anger dissipated and I’ve never forgotten his words. They are seared in my mind: “they need to know that I was here.” We’ve never spoken of what it’s like to feel “not here.” I don’t know how to broach the topic.

Julian is verbally gifted and I badgered him to write something that I could post here. He’s always resisted. When I asked him a few years ago what he might share with readers of this blog he answered succinctly: “Tell them that I am a human being.” He also shared a poem that he said best described his prison experience.

Julian is a human being who is passing through while contending with “not hereness.” He’s alive right now, lying in the hospital recovering. He’s alive and passing through. I am struggling to understand what this means for him and for me. I think back to a few lines of Julian’s favorite poem by M.A. Church that he says best captures his prison experience.

You ask what it’s like here
but there are no words for it.
I answer difficult, painful, that men
die hearing their own voices. That answer
isn’t right though and I tell you now
that prison is a room
where a man waits with his nerves
drawn tight as barbed wire, an afternoon
that continues for months, that rises
around his legs like water
until the man is insane
and thinks the afternoon is a lake:
blue water, whitecaps, an island
where he lies under pale sunlight, one
red gardenia growing from his hand –

After surviving that kind of an experience, it’s understandable that one would want to take up space in the “free” world, to ‘be here,’ and to remind others of our humanity. But I fear that the “free” world has no concern for those who return from this unspeakable place. So I’m still holding my breath for Julian, afraid that to exhale means he’ll disappear…

Apr 16 2014

Poem of the Day: Rape

I love Jayne Cortez. I love hearing her read this poem… It’s explicit. She’s gone now but her work lives on. Rape is a poem about Joan Little and Inez Garcia. I’m immersed in a current project that also focuses in part on them…

Rape
by: Jayne Cortez

What was Inez Garcia supposed to do for the man who declared war on her body
the man who carved a combat zone between her breasts
Was she supposed to lick crabs from his hairy ass
kiss every pimple on his butt
blow hot breath on his big toe
draw back the corners of her vagina and
he haw like a California burro
This being war time for Inez
she stood facing the knife
the insults and
her own smell drying on the penis of
the man who raped her
She stood with a rifle in her hand
doing what a defense department will do in times of war
and when the man started grunting and panting and
wobbling forward like a giant hog
She pumped lead into his three hundred pounds of shaking flesh
Sent it flying to the Virgin of Guadelupe
then celebrated day of the dead rapist punk
and just what the fuck else was she supposed to do?
And what was Joanne Little supposed to do for the man who declared war on her life
Was she supposed to tongue his encrusted
toilet stool lips
suck the numbers off of his tin badge
choke on his clap trap balls
squeeze on his nub of rotten maggots and
sing “god bless america thank you for fucking my life away?”
This being wartime for Joanne
she did what a defense department will do in times of war
and when the piss drinking shit sniffing guard said
“I’m gonna make you wish you were dead black bitch
come here”
Joanne came down with an ice pick in
the swat freak motherfucker’s chest
yes in the fat neck of that racist policeman
Joanne did the dance of the ice picks and once again
from coast to coast
house to house
we celebrated day of the dead rapist punk
and just what the fuck else were we supposed to do

Apr 10 2014

Poem of the Day: ‘I Am Somebody’ by Joan Little

Since I am in the middle of working on a project focused on the history of criminalizing women for self-defense, I am coming across a number of interesting pieces of information.

Here’s a poem written by Joan Little:

I AM SOMEBODY!
By Joann Little

I may be down today
But I am somebody!

I may be considered the lowest
on earth; but I am somebody!

I came up in low rent housing,
sometimes lived in the slums;
But I am still somebody!

I read an article where a black youth
was jailed, he stole some food, but got
15-20 years – he was somebody!

I killed a white in ‘self-defense’
but the jury doesn’t care – and when
he came for me to prepare trial –
he said she deserves the chair –

Every time

Every hurt and pain I feel inside,
Everytime I pick up the morning news
only to see my name on the front page –
I begin to wonder; they make me feel
less than somebody.

But in the end I will have freedom
and peace of mind. I will do anything
to help prove my innocence. Because
of one important fact above all…

‘I am somebody!’

Source: Save Joann Little (Women’s Press Collective, 1975)