What was a policeman, if not a civilian with a uniform and a badge? But they tended to use the term [civilian] these days as a way of describing people who were not policemen. It was a dangerous habit: once policemen stopped being civilians, the only other thing they could be was soldiers.
Collective movements for social justice do not gain traction through niceness. American women did not gain the right to vote by skipping down Pennsylvania Avenue while whistling cute songs about suffrage: they picketed, they marched, they yelled, they were arrested. Abusive partners and rapists will not be stopped by women having heart-to-hearts with their violators over coffee, because ghosts cannot talk and broken fingers cannot lift a latte. The patriarchy cannot be shattered by good vibes. In order to bring about change, old and oppressive structures must be destroyed. Destruction is not negative if what will grow from the rubble is something that will create a safer, healthier, stronger society.
1. smoke above the burning bush
2. archnemesis of summer night
3. first son of soil
4. coal awaiting spark & wind
5. guilty until proven dead
6. oil heavy starlight
7. monster until proven ghost
9. phoenix who forgets to un-ash
10. going, going, gone
11. gods of shovels & black veils
12. what once passed for kindling
13. fireworks at dawn
14. brilliant, shadow hued coral
15. (I thought to leave this blank
but who am I to name us nothing?)
16. prayer who learned to bite & sprint
17. a mother’s joy & clutched breath
As the world watched the tumultuous events in Ferguson, Mo., over the last week, a new hashtag was born: #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. The meme was photographic: what images would the media use if I died? But the question, at its heart, was one of naming.
Kid or criminal? Victim or threat? Brother, son, friend — or thug? One of us, or other?
Danez Smith grapples with the power of naming, and the powerlessness of being named, in this poem. Poetry Magazine tweeted it out earlier today, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.