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artist:jake whisenant

poem:"tonight, in oakland" by danez smith; "to bless the memory of tamir rice" by tsitsi ella jaji

"tonight, in oakland" by danez smith

I did not come here to sing a blues.

Lately, I open my mouth


& out comes marigolds, yellow plums.

I came to make the sky a garden.


Give me rain or give me honey, dear lord.

The sky has given us no water this year.


I ride my bike to a boy, when I get there

what we make will not be beautiful


or love at all, but it will be deserved.

I’ve started seeking men to wet the harvest.


Come, tonight I declare we must move

instead of pray. Tonight, east of here,

two boys, one dressed in what could be blood


& one dressed in what could be blood

before the wound, meet & mean mug


& God, tonight, let them dance! Tonight,

the bullet does not exist. Tonight, the police


have turned to their God for forgiveness.

Tonight, we bury nothing, we serve a God


with no need for shovels, we serve a God

with a bad hip & a brother in prison.


Tonight, let every man be his own lord.

Let wherever two people stand be a reunion


of ancient lights. Let’s waste the moon’s marble glow

shouting our names to the stars until we are


the stars. O, precious God! O, sweet black town!

I am drunk & I thirst. When I get to the boy


who lets me practice hunger with him

I will not give him the name of your newest ghost


I will give him my body & what he does with it

is none of my business, but I will say look,


I made it a whole day, still, no rain

still, I am without exit wound


& he will say Tonight, I want to take you

how the police do, unarmed & sudden


& tonight, when we dream, we dream of dancing

in a city slowly becoming ash.


Danez Smith, "Tonight, in Oakland." Copyright © 2015 by Danez Smith.

"to bless the memory of tamir rice" by tsitsi ella jaji

Plant twelve date palms in a ring around the tarmac. Make them

tall, slight towers, leaning into the wind as princes do. Fear that

the sweetness of dates will churn your stomach. Plant them anyways.


Plant the pudge of his fuzzless face in the arrested time of a school portrait.

Plant his exotic name—found in a book that spelled dreams

of eminence and hope for an uncertain coupling—in your ear.


Know that whether it leaches into the soil or not, this ground

was watered with his blood. This tarmac turned a rioting red. Strike that.

There was a screech of brakes, and sirens howling like a cliché, then


a volley of pops that might have been a game if only

what came next was not such utter silence.

The tarmac was red. There was no riot.


Build a circle of palms and something to keep them safe.

Build a greenhouse around the twelve palms.

Yes, a green house. This land is not our land.


Dig up the tarmac, the dark heavy loam of this side of town.

Be sure to wear gloves as you dig through the brownfield’s

mystification. Once the Cuyahoga River was a wall of fire.


God knows how rain melts metal.

Dig into that earth and build

a foundation. Quarry it.


Let the little boys and little girls of Shaker Heights and Orange

bring a Game Boy or cellphone, or other toy made our of coltan that,

chances are, a little boy or little girl dug up by hand in the DRC.


Let the children lay their shiny toys in the foundation.

Seal up ground with molten lead. Die-cast its melted weight.

Yes, make a typecaster’s mold, and leave it a dull grey, like flint.


Stamp out a broadside, only set it in the foundation’s floor.

Let us read the letter that says this officer was unfit.

Let us go over it step by step, every time we walk toward the green


house of imaging what this boy’s boyhood should have been,

the fulfilling of his name, his promise.

Plant an oasis here. How is not my problem.




Let someone who remember how cook de rice.

Let she cook de rice with palm oil ’til is yellow an sticky.

Of course dem have palm oil in Cleveland. Dis no Third World we livin in.


Let she cook she rice an peas. Let she say

how she know to do it from a film she seen. In de film, dem people from

de sea island gone to Sierra Leone and dema find dey people,


dey people dat sing de same song with de same words. Come to

find out dem words is not jes playplay words, dem words for weeping. So dema

sit down together, an weep together, dey South Carolina an Sierra Leone family.


Dey weep over de war, an de water, an de fresh and de forgotten,

an dey cook dat rice ’til is yellow and sticky. Dey nyam it with dey hand,

outta banana leaf and de old, old man, him say,


you never forget the language you cry in.


Let all dem little girls from Shaker Heights skip the gymnastics meet.

Let dem come and eat rice and eat rice ’til they don’t want to eat rice no more

an let dem still have rice to eat. Let them lose their innocence.


Let horizons settle low.

Let dates and raisin and apples and nuts seem a strange mockery

of the new, the sweet, the hoped for. Let us share the matter.


Let us sit here under these date palms,

and haggle over whose fault it is. Let the rage that says tear this shit down

tear this shit down.


Let us start with the glass walls of the greenhouse, as a demonstration.

Let the rage that says I cannot speak not speak.

Let it suck speech into its terrible maw and leave us shuddering in silence.


Let the rage that says, black lives matter matter.

Let that other rage that says all lives matter be torn down. Let the matter with how

we don’t all matter in the same way churn up a monumental penitence.


Let the date palm offer us shade.

Let us ask why we are still here.

Let us lower eyes as we face his mother, his father, his sister.

Tsitsi  Ella Jaji, "To Bless the Memory of Tamir Rice" from Beating the Graves.  Copyright © 2017 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Press.

from Jake:

Things changed this week. For me. For our country. For the world.


When Zoe first asked me, I was beyond excited and dove into some great LGBTQIA poetry. I was excited to share a queer voice, but things changed. My voice doesn’t need to be amplified right now. I want to use this space to showcase voices that are more important than mine. 


In tying the two together, do you know why we celebrate Pride month? It’s the anniversary and celebration of the Stonewall uprising. The RIOTS. Riots that forever changed the LGBTQIA community and afforded me the taste of equality I have today. Do you know who started these riots? Who stood up for queers everywhere when no one else stood? Marsha P. Johnson. She’s a badass black transwoman ( and self-identified drag-queen) who started the uprising and later helped form the first Pride Rally, leading to Pride Parades, and the Pride Month we’re celebrating now - two nights of intense riots brought us here.


But, 2020 is fucked up and Pride Month is cancelled in light of Wrath.


With that in mind, I am linking some amazing black voices with stories to be told and stories to be heard. My video might look a little different than the rest, but these words are inauthentic coming from my mouth. Instead, we are posting an 8 minute and 46 second blackout video. I encourage you to read these poems during the video and reflect. 


Lastly, I want to thank Zoe for allowing me to do this with full support and unending encouragement. And to my BIPOC - I see you. I hear you. I’m with you. #BlackLivesMatter

a few places to begin your further reading of black poets:

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