Luisa A. Igloria: A few years ago, there was heightened police activity at one end of a residential area near the university where I teach.
When I wrote this poem, I was thinking of how, often, there’s such a thin line between danger and ‘the ordinary.’
Especially for bodies of color, it’s difficult and even terrifying to move around in a world where they can’t be sure who or what they can trust. I also thought about the word custody itself, and how its meanings casually shift from the idea of protection or care, to that of legal restraint and imprisonment.
And perhaps because it was summer then, we’d take evening walks and look at the sky, squinting to find the constellations.
It seemed to me that Orion, that great hunter in mythology armed with a bronze club and always accompanied by his dogs, belonged in this poem.
By Luisa A. Igloria
Chopping cilantro and flat leaf parsley
on a bamboo board at the sink, mincing
garlic and onions. Late mellowing light,
the air bordering on cool but tinged
bitter-green with the smell of growing
amargoso in the yard. I can keep
the kitchen door open because the side gate
is locked, and the week-long siege at the street
corner is over. We did not know the man
they say trespassed, early Monday morning,
into someone’s yard with a firearm;
did not know what altercation if any
led to someone calling the police. So he ran
and barricaded himself in his own house.
They came in force, then; rifles drawn,
sealed off one end of the block. Those of us
who could still come and go out the other end
brought back reports every day, over four
days: how many squad cars, where the waiting
ambulance was parked, the bomb unit; who saw
the robot deployed with a phone, the negotiators,
the TV crew. We did not witness how, before dawn
on the fourth day, finally they took him into custody—
from the Latin custodia meaning guardianship,
keeping, care. Now this man who neighbors say
used to pelt their doors with donuts, or attach
stuffed animals on leashes for walks,
is in a hospital or facility. Is it wrong
to wonder if it lasted as long as it did
instead of arriving at swifter resolution—
doors broken in; tasers, clubs; bullets sprayed
into his body—because of the color of his skin?
Or is it possible to believe that finally
something of change might be moving slowly
through the dismal atmosphere, tempering
and holding in check, allowing the thought
to stay the trigger, the heart to register
its trembling before letting the weapon fly?
In summer, because dark descends more slowly,
it’s hard to scan the sky for the hunter
and his belt studded with the three telltale
bright stars; harder to remember how
once, he boasted he would hunt down and kill
all of earth’s wild animals, to make it safe.
But there he is, adrift in the inky darkness,
club and shield eternally raised, his own K-9 units
at his heels; and here we are, still trying to sort
villain from victim, wound from welcome opening.
Copyright © 2021 by Luisa A. Igloria. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 19, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
She is a Louis I. Jaffe Professor of English and Creative Writing in the MFA Program at Old Dominion University. In July 2020, she was appointed Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Margaret Noodin: This poem was written after hearing Kwame Alexander and Rachel Martin talk about Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech ‘I Have a Dream’ which was inspired by Langston Hughes’ poem ‘I Dream a World.’
With all we’ve lost and learned this past year, and all that remains to be repaired, I thought perhaps we should all sit down and dream harder and more often with more clarity and infinite diversity.
Nimbawaadaan Akiing / I Dream a World
By Margaret Noodin
I dream a world
of clean water
and changing winds.
I dream a world
of ones who remember
who seek the truth and
believe in tomorrow together.
I dream a world
where our path in the sky
can be seen as clearly as
the place where our neighbor once stood.
Copyright © 2021 by Margaret Noodin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
Margaret Noodin is the author of Gijigijigaaneshi Gikendaan (Wayne State University Press, 2020) and Weweni (Wayne State University Press, 2015), both collections of bilingual poems in Anishinaabemowin and English.
The editor of www.ojibwe.net, she currently works as the Associate Dean of Humanities and professor of English and American Indian Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where she also serves as director of the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education.
Poetry & Environmental Justice
The Poetry Coalition, an alliance of more than 25 independent poetry organizations across the United States, is addressing Environmental Justice in a series of nationwide programs beginning this month through June.
We will be dedicating Saturdays in March to poems that explore the theme of Poetry & Environmental Justice.
This special series will be curated by Linda Hogan, whose poem “Map” was used as inspiration for this year’s theme.
The Poetry Coalition and its programmatic efforts are supported by a major grant to the Academy of American Poets from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.