Lydia K. Valentine



Nightmares

The Hollywood rendered abominations
created to scratch against the metal fillings
of our hearts with foil-lined fingertips,
to send electric shivers of revulsion, of simmering dread



are grey-white skin, jagged teeth, screeching
are blank eyes, skinned-over eyes, sclera black eyes
are hunched over, misshapen, contorted bodies



are all wrong.



It’s the clawing uncertainty, the polar silence
that fills a mother’s belly when the sepia sun
of her world steps out beneath the deceptive
brightness of this star spangled sky, the visions that



are bullet-torn skin, broken teeth, screaming
are dead eyes, forever-shuttered eyes, bruised black eyes
are doubled-over, mis-taken, broken bodies -



these are the horrors that keep us awake.




the skin I’m in

is mommy-soft, care-worn
stretches to fit the codes that switch
throughout my day



recognizes like-fabrics: not separated
by colors but grouped by ability
to tumble through life together
without too much static



feels too tight when my tag
is mis-read and I am washed
in a light meant for someone else



can only give you a clue to what’s inside
my ancestral closet: skeletal hangers
of black, red, and white,
full-blood, mulatto,
octoroon, quadroon,
half-breed, mixed,
and altogether
all mixed up



has thirty-three years
of layers that have finally
learned to be thick enough
to repel disapproval
and judgments
so that they don’t sink in
most of the time
or at least some
of the time
anyway




Speaking in Tongues
Dedicated to the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and too many others to name.



When they come
in this time
in this place
Niemoller's Socialists aren’t first.



The strange flotsam jettisoned
with guns, garbage bag nooses,
metal-lined vans, and more guns
are named



Amadou,
and Oscar,
Trayvon,
and Michael,
Sandra,
and Tamir



to #SAYTHENAME of a few.

In this time- 
In this place- 



Our rage-full voices spill out in protest, but
the dam you fashion from concrete blocks of



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stops the viscous swamp of our agony
from reaching you.



While you watch from the banks of privilege,
we wade in water as thick and ropy as clotted dreams:
        to live while black…
        to marry who we love...
        to use the bathroom...
        to keep pipelines out of ancestral lands...
        to escape land mines, genocide, and other thieves
                that steal children and grandmothers.



We wade in these systemic waters
trying to have the breath to live,
the peace to live, the freedom to - simply - live.



Our light bright to midnight skin warps and prunes.
The water stirs and pulses with our voices,
our steps, and pushes against your concrete impassivity.



You look away and began to consider- 
blustery defensiveness stalls progress,
but you begin to consider the sandbags
you’ve stacked and keep on hand to
– righteously! – protect your position.



But now,
in this time
in this place



Now the shore deteriorates beneath you,
you who stood so certain, so safe before.



Now you reach out your hand, hoping
to share in our buoyant resilience.



Now you speak out in confusion and fear,
beginning to imagine the torment
of drowning by degrees in the sputum
of ruptured justice.



You.



You remind- no, scold! – us
that movements are stronger
when we come together
even though the barrier between
us was built by your hands,



and we are asked– no, admonished! -
to disregard that dam and the damning
consequences of your past silence,
even though the raw-meat smell
of our children’s blood clings to both.



Forgive and forget slithers smoothly
from transgressors’ tongues. You present
these nonsense syllables as if you’re an
oracle of the divine, but your purpose,
your ploy, is far from holy. I know.



Still, I will raise my hand from the
chest-deep depths I’ve forcibly come to know.
I will reach across the rough concrete
of your ignorance and help you stand
in your new waterlogged reality,
in your pool that barely reaches the knee.



I dare you to call yourself a survivor.