Over the past couple days, I had the opportunity to attend a summit on “Racial Healing and Equity in the American South” hosted by the Clinton School‘s Center on Community Philanthropy. While there is much that could be shared from my experience there, I’m simply including a poem that I heard for the first time today. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that poetry isn’t on my short list of things that I tend to appreciate, but something about this one struck a chord.
“Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe in the War Between Races” by Lorna Dee Cervantes
In my land there are no distinctions.
The barbed wire politics of oppression
have been torn down long ago. The only reminder
of past battles, lost or won, is a slight
rutting in the fertile fields.
In my land
people write poems about love,
full of nothing but contented childlike syllables.
Everyone reads Russian short stories and weeps.
There are no boundaries.
There is no hunger, no
complicated famine or greed.
I am not a revolutionary.
I don’t even like political poems.
Do you think I can believe in a war between races?
I can deny it. I can forget about it
when I’m safe,
living on my own continent of harmony
and home, but I am not
I believe in revolution
because everywhere the crosses are burning,
sharp-shooting goose-steppers round every corner,
there are snipers in the schools…
(I know you don’t believe this.
You think this is nothing
but faddish exaggeration. But they
are not shooting at you.)
I’m marked by the color of my skin.
The bullets are discrete and designed to kill slowly.
They are aiming at my children.
These are facts.
Let me show you my wounds: my stumbling mind, my
“excuse me” tongue, and this
with the feeling of not being good enough.
These bullets bury deeper than logic.
Racism is not intellectual.
I cannot reason these scars away.
Outside my door
there is a real enemy
who hates me.
I am a poet
who yearns to dance on rooftops,
to whisper delicate lines about joy
and the blessings of human understanding.
I try. I go to my land, my tower of words and
bolt the door, but the typewriter doesn’t fade out
the sounds of blasting and muffled outrage.
My own days bring me slaps on the face.
Every day I am deluged with reminders
that this is not
and this is my land.
I do not believe in the war between races
but in this country
there is war.