“Writing is a political instrument.”
In these fraught times I’ve found myself turning to poetry for solace and inspiration, and I wanted The Sun to present a selection of poems that speak to the subtle and not-so-subtle injustices going on around us. I discussed this with writer Crystal Williams, who advocates for diversity and inclusivity in the arts. She proposed that we solicit work on the theme of “love and justice,” an apt choice for a tense historical moment. The theme seemed to resonate with poets, and we received too many worthy submissions to include here. Some will appear in future issues. We are grateful to Crystal for her generous contribution to this effort.
— Carol Ann Fitzgerald
What The Dickens?
What is it about the worst of times that brings out the best in people when people are the reason the times have never been worse? I woke up this morning and there were two truths now instead of one; I walked from one room through a door into the same room I’d just left. Everything the experts said was impossible was possible, has now been done or will be done on earth because this isn’t heaven, and I’m worried we’ve been done in, worried we’ve done ourselves in: we the people of the United States, we the people of the United States, we the people of the United States are the ones we’ve been waiting for, are the ones we’ve been running from.
Broken Sonnet For The Decorative Cotton For Sale At Whole Foods
Who knew — all you had to do was wrap three stems of dirty cotton in cellophane, call it a bouquet and sell it on the white side of town to make a decent living? Grandmother, instead of picking clean each spiny mouth, why didn’t you weave the woodsy stalks into a wreath, the perfect autumnal decor in suburban Alabama? Instead of sharecropper, factory worker, cleaner-of-white-house, why not start an Etsy shop? Make little cotton ribbons to adorn blond curls — string your daughters’ baby teeth on a thin gold rope and call them pearls.
Are You Milly Rocking* In Heaven?
— for Jordan Edwards, a fifteen-year-old black boy shot by the police in 2017
What’s it like there? Is it like that day before? Before shouting, Before running, screaming, getting in the car, Before shots rang out, glass flying, When you were dancing? Are you still dancing Running across blue skies? Is there music playing? A soundtrack? What’s on your heaven playlist? You know what happens on earth stays on earth so what you gonna do now? Got plans later or just gonna wait and see what’s good? Have you made friends yet? I’m sure with that smile, those eyes . . . Lord knows you’re not alone, no Shooooot! I can see it now The whole fam was there to welcome you Tyre, Tamir, Trayvon, Mike Brown your new big brother ragging on your jump shot Can you reach the rim now? Sandra’s there I can hear her laughing, saying, “Jordan, pull up your pants” While Eric Garner mans the grill and Philando roasts the corn Do you have a hope, a dream to come true? You can now you know You can Without fear Be free So what you gonna do? Skydive Bungee jump Travel the world Throw a running-back pass across the clouds Heck, you got it all don’t you — opportunities like you never had on land, yes Sun shining, music blasting What you listening to? Did you listen to the new Kendrick yet? Are you dancing? Are you milly rocking in heaven now?
*a hip-hop dance
When I was seven, I watched men’s basketball. I faced the mirror with socks stuffed down my tank tops. I imagined my body with breasts of my own, like the white women wearing lingerie in glossy magazine ads with their full lips and tousled hair. When I was eleven, I wore basketball jerseys. I stood taller than most boys my age, and during recess I played four-square with them. I knocked a white boy off the court right before I was called a terrorist for the first time. I pulled him into a headlock and called him a pussy. He called me a dyke, and I let him go. When I was sixteen, I carried men’s body spray inside my purse. During gym class a white boy called me a dot head,* and I told him to suck my dick. After class, inside the locker room, I tried to stop staring at the white girls with sharp hipbones. Before I traded my basketball jerseys for dresses, I crumpled magazine ads and shoved them down the front of my jeans, imagining my life if I had the body of a boy.
*a derogatory term for South Asians
He tells them, his American children, how when he was their age he had to walk two miles uphill to school after hunting the meat to eat that day after fetching the water to use that day after working the fields before the sun had even risen. Then after staying late at school to finish his homework he would walk those two miles home to hunt fetch water plant dig harvest and do whatever needed to be done because to succeed he had to work five ten a hundred times harder than anyone else — there were hundreds of children and only one mission one school one classroom one chance to be the best and impress the missionaries and get sponsored and get out and become something — but his American children do not understand how there was no second chance and if his arrow missed his prey they would not eat that night — it was winner take all and he took even if there would be nothing left behind and you never looked back only forward to succeed and winning was everything — but still his American children say: Why does everything have to be a competition. Why do you have to be so hard? And he wonders how they can want him softer when there is no room for softness where he comes from — if he had not made himself so hard he would not have pushed past everyone else to grab that one chance to escape. But his American children all they say is Can you not just love us? Can you not take us to Africa to visit so we can know ourselves, love ourselves? Love? Love?! Had he not taken them from Idi Amin’s genocide out of love and given them running water free speech the right to vote a democracy and a playing field that seemed level and guaranteed life liberty and the pursuit of happiness while back in Africa three of five of them would be dead already from war, disease, or famine? Dear God, had he not done enough, had he not been enough, had he not tried his best — had he not brought them here to safety? Had he not survived? Were they not all still alive?
Lavender, peppermint, tea tree, thyme: my mother knew how to heal the body of certain ailments. Rose for blood pressure, geranium for nerves. Bergamot to overcome mental obstacles and, in the hard months, a few drops of clary sage for the feminine bloods. For me she mixed three drops of patchouli and pine needle with lotion, to be applied in upward strokes twice daily or as needed when my father woke in the dark of night with my hair and my young name in his mouth.
Before the 2016 presidential election, in response to Donald Trump’s infamous comment about grabbing women’s genitals, photographer Anja Schütz invited women to participate in a project that used the hashtag #GrabHimByTheBallot.
She took us one at a time into her studio: bare floors, tripod, American flag tacked to the paneled wall, red, white, and blue. She talked to us about our bodies, the laying on of hands where hands had no business, the business of selling women’s bodies. We nodded, stripped, stood on the blue mark, posed. It was cold. We tried not to shake. Breathe, she said. Staring into her lens, we shook off the unwanted and unasked for, the accidentally on-purpose, absolutely on-purpose, the one on the train, the bus, the one supposed to protect us, the one whose face we never saw, who called us stupid fucking whore, who said it was only a joke, why can’t we take a joke? Don’t smile if you don’t want to, she said. Most of us didn’t.
Praise Song For The Body
to the curve in my spine, the lopsided shoulder, the vertebrae’s dance, praise to the knuckle & crease of my toes, to my narrow feet & resilient soles, praise to the ankles’ strain, the fat & muscle of a calf, the knees’ bop & boogie, be praise to the kink in my curls, the rub & jiggle of thick thighs, these sinful hips, yes praise my pale black ass, my greedy cunt & clit’s psalm, praise to my belly-baked muffin top & snack-choked abs, praise to the sweat swamping under my boobs, its damp funk, to you sweet itty-bitty titties, be praise to the bumps & hairs & the bite-sized toffee of a nipple, praise praise these scars, all of them, the bug bites & tumbles, the box cutter’s slash, praise the skin, its unreserved forgiveness, its sunspots & tender, praise these lips, these cheeks, this worried brow, this weight behind my eyes, praise the wheeze in my lungs, the gasp & sigh, the tongue’s cry, praise to the body’s inefficiencies, to the heart’s frailty & incessant song, praise to what is frantic & divine, the me in my parts, this ragged spirit this wondering joy, praise
y’all! they look like slow green explosions! thick as the best fro in the clique. a clique of them. a whole hood of soft jade. i’m a little beside myself, driving thru mississippi with tish, who is indeed a part of myself. she say i wish i could take a picture of all this green but it’s raining so we can’t photograph these perfect emerald lungs, these giant, ancient niggas. they must be niggas, right? how brown & giving they are. their fruit cousin to our hands, their flowers our songs. i wonder if i went a year without lotion if my skin would dry into bark & my naps would drink the light as my toes grew wild & twisted with thirst? do you think that’s how trees were invented? a bunch of niggas stood still in a field, waiting for a sign from an old god, their breath a prayer until all they could do was breathe. if i could be a tree, i’d know god is real. if i could be a tree, there’d be a heart knifed into my skin that’d read i ♥ all my niggas! if i could stand still in a field with tish & josh & blaire & jamila & cam & aaron & nate & angel & morgan & britteney & kelsey & aziza & krysta & d’allen & kamia & dorian & thiahera & all the niggas whose names burst my heart to joyful smithereens with their bright seeds i would be the happiest tree, i’d let all the birds live in me, glad to breathe in that constellation of green budding stars. o my god of negroes & foliage, roots & roots & roots, here we are black & ashy & filtering air, ready to be the forest, deliver us into an axeless world. sweet mother of chlorophyll & melanin branch & braid, dogwood & all my dawgs we stand, waiting to be made evergreen. we see your promise in the noonstar hear your word in the rain.
— for kevin
he cuts my grass detests the black president this is the first thing he shares then says he’s from canada where gretzky was born you know gretzky? he and i have been in michigan for the same amount of time lost a parent broke a heart had ours broken he is curious that i teach law & know a few things shouldn’t i be mowing lawns or laying cement? a black man like me in a suit more scarce in these parts than crawfish i don’t tell him i have seen him dancing butterball naked on social media i treat him with respect this mollifies him though it is simple: ten toes ten fingers nose mouth pain hearts pumping blood loves but he still speaks always unkindly of the black president assumes i will get angry like a child denied a toy but i don’t his wife is dying my big bro’s wife has the same disease this is where we all meet most days it is our balm & burden we compare stories when i see him i just remain quiet nod my head he invites me to church i don’t go though my imagination surges: people holding snakes the most segregated hour in America it’s been called last time i see him he’s happy his wife is alive but they have split up he doesn’t cut lawns he’s wearing a suit i attended a church last week not his i’m the only color in the room but there are no snakes i stand & sing hymns pray feel like i am on pluto watching a hockey game but no one there says anything bad about the black president & there’s a sign seen on their lawn: Black Lives Matter.