Can a poem be a form of resistance?

Inanna-Sumerian-God-AnnunakiI don’t know the answer to the title of this post. Writing a poem in the face of injustice feels both pointless and like the strongest thing I can do. The story of Chikesia Clemons, who was assaulted at a Waffle House, by police, after requesting plasticware with a takeout order and having the audacity to protest an upcharge, enraged me. I know I’ve gone all kinds of sassy, snarky, uppity and uncalled for in the bank when things didn’t go my way. I’ve vented my ire at more than one undeserving customer services representative. But I’m white. I can behave badly and suffer the hangover of shame and move on. What of the black women who are my neighbors and coworkers and community? Where is the justice? How do we stand with them and for them?

This poem ripped through my guts, born of fire and fury.

For Chikesia Clemons

What goes unsaid
is that you were given a double-serving
of injustice. Twin lashes
for your duplicitous sins of being born
female and black. You,

the Queen of Heaven, sent into a life
of fun house mirrors that distorted
your every truth, reflected your image
back wrenched and marred
and nightmarish. Sorry

isn’t even a drop in the bucket
it would take to quench your burning. But who
would spare their own piss
to put out the fire you walk through? We
are all tethered

to our individual pain and muzzled
by the promise of a little relief in exchange
for our complicity. Sad animals plowing
an endless row to escape the whip
while calling the rut

a moat, calling the prison a palace. So
as you were assaulted in a restaurant,
knocked to the ground, breasts
exposed, the other diners went on
eating waffles and fryer grease

and shame, like your humiliation
was just dessert. Like your body
is every girl we can’t protect
from eyes and hands and entitlement
and toxic masculinity and violence

and oppression
and oppression
and the bad dream of oppression
that plays out over and over
in daylight, like reality TV. Like

your skin is the flag of our collective
land grab, your bones a litany of our
trespasses, your pleas
and anguish that must be unlistened
so that we may unhear

all of the cries. To help you up
would be to admit to all those subjugated
before you. To admit you’re not a carpet,
not a corner stone, not a headstone,
but blood and breath and dream.

Your body is not a woman
broken but our ancestral homeland,
which we also could not save
from greed and appetite
and eyes and hands and entitlement

and oppression, and oppression, and
the rising tide of apathy. To see
your humanity would be to see
our own inhumanity and then what?
Would we get up from our waffles

to tear down the cities built upon
your sweat, your ache, your grief, your
blackness, your womanness, the space
you take up by being here despite every effort
to erase you?

Karma is a revolving door, bitches,
says the one who birthed the stars, the one
who stirs the cyclones to retrace, season
after season, the path of the slave ships:
Remember, remember, remember, and still no one

puts down their fork. You take your
double-serving of injustice, your
twin lashes, like a to-go order. Like
a take out meal you paid for
even though it tastes of bitterness. Like

you’ve been rocked
in the hold of a nameless ship
for eons, your story a retelling
gone on so long the words
have lost all meaning. Like

what goes around can’t
boomerang back soon enough. But
isn’t it prescribed to offer cakes
to the Queen of Heaven at her altar
rather than her grave?



3 thoughts on “Can a poem be a form of resistance?

  1. Pingback: We are advancing the world we want – Ami Worthen

  2. Do you know the story of the goddess that is at the top of this story? I find it compelling….The poem of injustice is very interesting. We as women, of any color, have lost our power. The tide is shifting…don’t get caught in the undertow.
    The Auracle of Asheville has spoken

    • The image is from the Burney Relief, which is believed to represent either Ishtar or her sister Ereshkigal. Ishtar was worshiped in Sumaria as Innana, and it was the descent myth of Innana (who was also known as The Queen of Heaven) that I was drawing from for this poem about Chikesia. I wanted to reframe the beating of Chikesia in modern day with the ancient myth of a goddess traveling to the underworld and being ritualistically stripped of her powers at various stations along her journey.

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