I sat in the audience at a poetry slam
in the same auditorium Malcolm X
spoke his last words in.
He never really left us.
By my small stature in a much larger system
to heal in this room
and exit to safety
We are reaching
We are reading
We have not forgotten.
We are not numb to their Novocain
We’ve memorized the incision sites
The knife is rusted
And we are exam room thorough in our analysis tonight.
Despite the monuments to the Confederacy on my campus,
The coming out parties for the homophobia of my hometown,
The history being smuggled out of Arizona,
The fear of brown lips potentially pronouncing the new official language of our states,
The careless jokes about rape,
Despite the attempts,
We are not impressed by their commitment to chaos.
48 years later, affirmative action being contested and the Nation slut-shaming sisters into submission,
There is plenty to be angry about.
You would have loved our poems.
We couldn’t leave you room-spinning, body stolen like that.
The floorboards of this space carry more than our weight.
I wanted to tell you and show you so many things. The surprise caught in my chest when I read the plaque commemorating you. You are gold on a wall. You are a spirit in the claps of poets. You are magnificent and you were not silenced. We continue you. A black woman was the first griot to become vessel onstage this eve. I believe you know that. You saw it. Us believing. For a minute, for a moment, in defying. Revolutions are an unsustainable resource. But we came from them, from their image, and if that’s as far back as I can trace myself I’ll be fine with that, knowing this is how we go from here. How we build and splatter and stumble and weep and speak like this. Like the stories of sweat inside closed fists. We are breathing for you, now that you can’t. We chant poems like prayers and praise a black man crying onstage, a gay man redefining a Bible’s page, we rock and shout and stomp and fall out of our frames finding you in the spaces between our seats. We be anything but meek.
And I’m tempted to say we need you,
but you never really left us,
We were wrong to miss you
to choose to grieve
when this whole time,
you were standing inside our cheeks
waiting to speak.