By conservative estimates, there are currently enough wrongfully convicted people in prison in the United States to fill a football stadium.
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“Writing is a political instrument.”
— James Baldwin
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
Cortney Lamar Charleston
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.
Ashley M. Jones
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.
— 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 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?
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?
Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello
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.
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.
Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello
Cortney Lamar Charleston
Ashley M. Jones
As I often do when The Sun arrives, I read your June 2018 issue from back to front. Every piece was terrific, especially the “Love and Justice” poetry section. Then I delved into Airica Parker’s interview with Camille T. Dungy [“Poetic Justice”]: what a climax!
I love the rhythm, the honest and incisive language about the female form, and the sheer joy of being a woman expressed in “Praise Song for the Body,” by Brionne Janae [June 2018]. Kudos to The Sun for pairing the poem with Bill Steber’s photo of a woman getting down on the dance floor.
Thank you for the June 2018 issue — all of it, but especially the “Love and Justice” poetry section, which tore at my heart and then helped heal it. Kudos for that editorial decision.
Danez Smith’s poem “Trees!” [June 2018] delights me more every time I read it. I feel grateful for Smith, for trees, and for The Sun.