“Staring At America”
(You can follow along with the words below, if you like.)
I saw a boy on the border,
and he was staring at America,
at the promise, at the myth
we wouldn’t let him share with us.
I search for a song, any way to say something,
to combat the chorus of hatred telling him he’s nothing.
But all I can recall is ‘This Land is Your Land’
and I can’t remember the lyric
that says, ‘sorry, not you, you’re banned.’
And I want to reach out, to put my hand on his hand
that’s resting on the glass of a window to a dreamland
where books have told him any man can take a stand,
where in truth you rise once you become a brand,
a supposed land of enterprise where we’ll demean the farmhand
fighting for his family left behind in a homeland,
staring at a border that treats their dark skin like contraband.
And if this boy’s back is wet, as they say, it’s because we
spit at him,
in a rush to condemn, the parents, the society
that raised him.
As if we own no mirrors and think our hatred
won’t faze him.
As if we would sacrifice our safety
to praise him, to raise him.
Just a boy
with two hands and a mind,
and a drive to be good,
to work hard, to be kind.
A drive lost on those of us
lost in the grind
of a world where we’ve
to work, yet do nothing
at the same time.
How can’t you see it? This systemic hate?
Must I water it down? Can you not drink it straight?
Must I trick you into truth
by cloaking it in click bait?
Fine. We put 29 policemen in a line
and if you’re brown-skinned and look at No. 25,
he might BLOW. YOUR. MIND.
And leave it on the street to scare and remind
you; that a police report and your skin can bind
you; that a uniform of fear and a license to kill can blind you.
Or how about this? We put together a quiz,
click on this and we’ll tell you what your future is.
Oh, your skin does not match the cream color of classroom walls?
Oh, you’re told you don’t belong in either set of bathroom stalls?
Oh, you don’t have a dick shaped like the ‘I’ in important?
Oh, you’re not able-bodied because bones or genes are disjointed?
That’s a shame. Your quiz result: That’s doom.
Be prepared to shout from the back corner of the classroom.
To be interrupted, disrespected, if you make it to the boardroom.
To be told what makes you different is all that put you in that dorm room.
To be told your only reparation is to pick up that push broom
that history aside.
for those who died.
cleaning that side-
So when you march on the streets
they can say that’s where you belong.
So when they say they want peace
they can kill your uniqueness with a curb-stomp.
This trans man was a poet, writing,
while he was staring at America,
looking for the letters
that could replace the name of Jessica.
Upset. His stanzas looked liked boxes
Four walls made for words, for checkmarks,
For these boxes trailed him, wherever he’d go,
waiting to tell him (like he didn’t yet know):
You don’t fit
in this binary existence.
Check ‘female’ on this document;
we must insist this.
And when you piss, follow the sign with the skirt,
the square dressed in the clothes
we bestowed you at birth.
When we bathed you in pink
and predestined your worth.
This man looked at me,
this poem on his mind,
trying to shape it into
a flat circle, like time
and he sighed.
Said ‘I’ll commit one more crime
against my birthright,
for the sake of what’s right
I’ll ask you call me ‘Daylight.’
Even once we reach night.”
Why? I asked.
This poet looked at the clock.
“So once a year, this world will save me,”
“From this never-ending dark.”
I kissed a boy in the shadows
so my hometown wouldn’t hate me.
Then told him I was straight
so he wouldn’t want to date me.
A bisexual boy? Why not just beg them to beat me?
So I hacked into my heart, where I could control, alt, delete me.
There was no cache they could smash, ’cause I cleared out my history.
It was easier to lie than to end up a mystery.
You want to know fear? Imagine your own end,
in a far-off field beneath the boots of an old friend,
on a fence post, like Matthew, begging for a godsend, nah,
long past believing you could mask, hide or fend off
who you are. That crime committed at birth.
When a lottery of biology determined your worth.
Because one man’s good book is another man’s curse.
One person’s path to heaven another person’s hearse.
Based on interpretations that are, quite frankly, sometimes sick and perverse.
I get it, you want to say this goes against nature.
That you’re sick of this war on our male nomenclature.
Man lies with woman; all else is abomination.
Nuclear families fueled the great generation.
Enough with trans rights and this gender castration!
A threat to traditional family is a threat to the nation!
If you must propagate hate beneath the veil of religion,
I ask that, at least, you do so with precision.
So much premarital sex! Where’s your derision?
When did gluttony become godly? Oh, right, capitalism.
Look, I, too, have read 18:22
and the other verses that tell us one plus one equals true,
that apply a binary to who we can love, who we do.
And guess what? I don’t care. So if we must pick and choose:
How ‘bout Christ-like kindness instead of this hatred you spew?
’Cause guess what? Nothing feels more natural, more real,
than the burden lifted, the freedom you feel
when you kiss who you like, while distinctly yourself.
No longer defined by a culture
or a book on the shelf.
From an inner city stoop,
a man was staring at America.
Passersby ignored his words
assuming they were bred from some hysteria.
But I listened; my neighbor’s name was Vincent,
no, not Van Gogh.
But he had an artist’s eye
that most of us will never know.
He stood 5-foot-2, but he could see over skylines,
could see into the souls of kids
standing in soup lines
’cause he’d been there,
made sure his own kids got theirs,
going city to city to find out where
he fit in.
“My bank account,” he says, “might say
I’m worth nothing.
But I work my ass off, don’t do drugs,
isn’t that worth something?”
He asked me, “Son,
what is your dream?”
I said to tell the stories of the voiceless,
He corrected me.
Said, “Son, we all have a say.
Your dream is not creation.
It’s to hear us someday.”
on the poor
is fueled by bullets of callousness.
You preach about hard work
to disguise your shallowness.
And I despise
you for this;
you do this:
See the eyes
of a child
when at school sits his
And hear kids point and laugh
’cause he eats pit and peel,
’cause it’s Friday,
and he can already feel
a weekend of hunger
this one lunch can’t conceal,
his working mama and four brothers
waiting for a new deal.
Sure, Jesus said to offer the shirt from your back,
but my GAWD, this is Ralph Lauren,
not some flea-market knickknack.
Please, spare us.
Some of you rich people scare us.
From extra bedrooms and yachts
you dare to disparage us
for wasting money on programs
designed to care for us.
But don’t worry. That ‘costly’ child will fade.
If not with his wallet, with his potential
Forever hungry for a chance to prove
he’s worth it, anyway.
Forever hungry for a second meal
on a school day.
I saw a girl on a reservation
staring at America.
Her twisted look of consternation
stolen straight from Guernica.
But beautiful. Not that you would know.
It’s hard to see beyond the boundary
between the truth and what we know.
She cries. A great Plains rain in her eyes.
Clouds visible for miles
before you see the dreams die.
“This country,” she laments, “treats us like dead skin,
like old life to be discarded and
collected in a dustbin.
Until we are forgotten like
a whisper on a crosswind,
until, to them, we all look like D.C.’s Redskins;
too burgundy to bleed, too gold to be spent;
because once you rendered us a myth,
who would care where the myth went?
Who would mind, that our being silenced
That we don’t hide; it’s genocide that makes us
hard to find?”
The girl sighed, like thunder
paused before she said it:
“I have a story for you Cory,
should you choose to spread it.
Though I fear that through the years
you are destined to forget it.
A story that explains this world
in sixty seconds if you let it.
“I used to think clay wasn’t red
before our bleeding bodies fed it;
before they scraped our scalps against the dirt,
took our history and shred it.
For I had seen myself fade to black.
Now a mascot. A child’s game. An artifact.
Made so small I could fit into the space
where the clay cracked.
Where grass could grow
and fail to show
the bodies buried by America.
When seeking greatness in nostalgia,
you see, forgetting is imperative.
“Dare to remember, to listen,
and you might just have to care for us.
is that so dangerous?”