Carter McKenzie



Calling for His Mother
—in memory of George Floyd

Calling for his mother

is a natural instinct
is the first instinct

when in danger

I have heard of this call
when bears
were eating a person alive
the bears unknowing

awful in their hunger
no word for it

indifferent, the story

bringing me

to my knees, fear in the
vastness of other beings

a humbling

my life unknown to them
how we are alone

a natural truth 

I will be subject to but 

what I cannot live with

what I say

I will not live with but I do

is the empty gaze of a white man

killing a Black man

beneath the weight
of the white man’s knee

for nearly 10 minutes, other
officers watching

doing nothing
and as a white mother

I either live with that
or not, the absence 

of good, a good man’s soul

departing in our midst
on video, regular onlookers 

pleading to lift

the unjust weight

crushing
deliberate
mindless

claim to law

and as a mother

I choose the bear

I wish upon the empty gaze
of the white man’s system

the full 
transformative

attention
of the bear




No más

“A number of women allege they were administered birth control and underwent procedures, including removal of their productive organs, without their consent while  being held at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia.” (LA Times, October 22,  2020)


no más

the first to blow the whistle
a Black woman, a single mother
a nurse at the detention facility
Dawn Wooten

no más

reporting general lack of medical care, shredded
medical request forms filled with blue
handwritten messages
of immigrants
detained there
reporting sickness

no más

repeated delays

one detained woman,
“oozing out of her belly button” 
after a laparoscopy, twelve sick call requests
in the span of two weeks

no más

yet a stream of women
having the same operation 
over and over
being transported
to the doctor’s office 
in the outside world

no más

Dawn Wooten saw this
Dawn Wooten spoke up
while others shut up
fabricated, smirked, shredded
document after document

for what reasons
from what fear

no más

about the doctor the immigrant women
called “the uterus collector”

no más

high rates of hysterectomies

done to
immigrant women
Black and Brown women
Latina, African, Caribbean, Chinese, some
in this country since they were babies,
many without English

no más

patients’ confusion about what had been done

a woman waking up chained
to a hospital bed

no más

Ibuprofen for everything else

but often no response

to breast cancer
to HIV
to COVID-19
for example

no más

no more kids

no más

such priorities

a detained woman’s drawing of a
uterus containing a question mark

no más

about the doctor—
about the for-profit prison
running this place—
about the doctor’s lawyer—

“we are confident the facts will
demonstrate the very malicious intent of
others to advance a purely political 
agenda”

Dr. Amin “strongly denies”
Dr. Amin is “fully cooperating”
Dr. Amine is “dedicated”
Dr. Amin is a “highly respected physician”

no más

the doctor’s words to patients waking up:

the doctor explaining his reasoning:

her fallopian tubes were “no good”

he “didn’t see why” she needed a uterus

because “how many kids you got?”

no más

such a doctor

such priorities

what did they do to me? 

no más

delayed inspection reports from
the “detention oversight arm
of ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility”

no más

without consent

over and over

a place “not equipped for humans”

a place with “one shower for more than fifty people”

a place of rancid food crawling
with ants and cockroaches

a place where only God is taking care of us

given the nature of ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility
how it operates

no más

ICE is not listening
ICE is not remembering

Nurse Wooten’s testimony: “He’s even taken out the wrong ovary
of a young lady…she said she was not all the way
under anesthesia and heard him tell the nurse
he took the wrong one”

no más
maltrato

doing what they like to us

what type of surgery did I have?

no más negligencias
no más discriminacion
no más lagrimas

wrote Angela Rojas ID number 72125
wrote Ana Adan       ID number 42179
wrote Keynin Roy    ID number 7245
wrote Enna Perez Sunlos ID number 70885
in blue ink on the Medical Request and Treatment Form

no más

rotten stink 
of medical exam rooms 
at Irwin County Detention Center

waste containers
overfilled

where “dust was observed on horizontal surfaces”

no más

“jarring medical neglect”

no más

punishment of solitary confinement
punishment of deportation
for those detained
objecting to this horror

and this is not the only place

no más

genocide is happening in the United States of America

land of liberty

no más
no más

no más!




Prayer for Heaven

May it hold the sounds
of the raw seams of our world,
our difficult heart, the borders
always at war.
May it hold mercy.
May it never be 
above and beyond
blossoms
scattering.
May it gather the blossoms beyond
the dark wall, on every side
revealing
an opening.
May it discover new names.
May heaven be generous, may 
its own burning
sky, 
its seraphim of infinite 
moons and suns, 
include every loss, even
the loneliness of the bones of a dog
floating 
among the miracles of space
before the anonymous fall, the abandoned vessel’s
fiery descent, everything
gone wrong, may it include even
the loneliness of the dog.
May it hold in its eye
the deep blue
dream we keep trying to tell—
how the light falls apart,
then is saved
no matter what happens, 
again and again, may heaven
be the singing, and may we be
forever changed.

Poem previously printed in Canary, Hip Pocket Press.




The Doll
—from the memory of a black-and-white photograph, circa 1909, Lynchburg, Virginia

I never noticed anything
but the soft faces, the mother 
and her two young daughters

held close, the youngest sister 
tucked on her mother’s lap, the eldest
my grandmother, nestled 

next to her mother’s side, obedient
and composed, her wide satin bow
carefully tied. I never noticed anything

but the clean white dresses
the cotton folds, the mother central
each daughter leaning inward

toward her, against her frame
within a gold-painted 
oval frame, a composition of repose

but the youngest
perhaps three years of age, her eyes
half closed as if in a drowse

the corners of her mouth
downturned, sleepy or sulking
against the soft patterns 

of lace, her mother’s softness
and my grandmother, age five perhaps
how her later stories of the nurse

who sang them to sleep every night
throughout her childhood
stayed with me, yet I never noticed

in this maternal portrait placed in my own
childhood room, what the baby held
loosely, like a forgotten bit of cloth

meant to comfort, held out of habit, perhaps
something she was tired of, almost dropped
from the small white hand, the black arm

of a rag doll, the carelessness of the hold
amidst such care, the doll
limp across the baby’s legs

against the whiteness
and now all I see—why the doll: not seen
being the point, being the directive

in this careful triad, not seen
determining the subject, 
the object, learned

before I knew it, this is
who we are
and now we are

within me
what I keep seeing

what I unearth