Poet of the Week: Naomi Extra

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When the Protest is Lonely

(Madison, WI 2011)

Capitol.  For the I in consciousness, for when your feet
Are muddied into the ground.  This is what democracy
looks like?  Tell me.  Better, show me how to see Jesse
(Jackson).  Imagine.  How your legs hang from your
body as others hang from trees.  You are a black woman,
dreaded,  coiled in other people’s memories.  Imagine.

Chanting “Kill the bill!” because union rights
matter.  Imagine.  Singing “We Shall Overcome” crowded by
lightening switch faces.  Jesse! Jesse!  Everyone’s turned
on, throbbing in dissent.   More chanting.  More repetition.
Jesse’s voice pulsating, cracking, and wandering into
your coat sleeve.  If only you’d been alive in the 60s.

Wondering where collective imagination got jammed.
Telling the same stories, singing the same songs as if
the present wasn’t worthy.  Swaying to a fragmented
past.  A lonely present.  Memories that evoke screams.
No sympathy.  Montgomery.  Memphis.  Birmingham.

Stories that have been hung out to dry.  Asking did we
collective anything before they threatened to take it
away?  Shivering in a crowd, wondering if anyone can see
you.  Jesse is a mummy.  No one cares.  Signs that say
things like “If I wanted a drop-out as governor, I would
have voted for Kanye.”  Religion has gone to sleep.

When it’s time to battle, drums are pounded to summon
fighting spirits.  To keep time, to keep everyone together.
Whose ancestors are we calling, which gods?  Which spirits?
Fire fighters march and you cheer.  Their chests nod
Upward as you woop and clap and slap them high five.

Hailing civil servants while ghosts of silence whistle an
Octave higher.  Fight for your rights.  Fight for what’s right.
Burdened decibels charge through holes, spaces
where we don’t talk to each other but into greyness.

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