Shortly after COVID-19’s arrival in our state, Mass Poetry put out a call for poems of this moment and we were stunned by the overwhelming response. In a way, these were poems of witness, asking you to pay attention to what was happening in the world during these unprecedented times—the horrible and the beautiful—and to make a record of it: the empty grocery store shelves, the conversations across balconies, the stadiums turned hospitals, midnight beach strolls, the sirens, the sirens, the sirens.But, this historical moment was not solely about COVID: it was also a time when a sitting president openly encouraged white supremacy, when George Floyd was murdered, when a grand jury refused to indict police officers for killing Breonna Taylor in her own home, when a U.S. President refused to concede and insurrectionists stormed the Capitol. And for Black and Brown Americans—who were more likely to die of COVID—it was also about police violence, record unemployment, less access to healthcare, and all the other forms of systemic racism that are always present, but more egregious during the deadliest infectious disease in a century. So today, we offer this special folio: six BIPOC poets bearing witness in extraordinary ways.
Pedro “Flako” Cruz lets the rose growing in concrete tell the story of surviving against the odds. DiDi Delgado deftly plays with the notion of the witness poem, cross-examining Karen on the stand. Christina Pierre Louis creates a living, breathing record of her ancestor, whose “spirit / still dances…in [her] home.” Jeannie Nunes takes on the term “alien,” confronting the promise of America with its own dehumanizing reality. Amanda Shea testifies against the microagressions and spiritual harm of the social media world, where violence against Black lives is reduced to a hashtag. And Durane West creates an opening in a wall, then invites us to look out with him, “holding space…admitting light, or air.”
I urge you to read these poems as a call to action: to acknowledge the human rights violations that are taking place every day in our own country. Do not look away. The hard work of witness is collective attention, but it’s collective action that will bring real change.
Pedro “Flako” Cruz
I’ve always wondered if the Rose that grew from the concrete knew it wasn’t supposed to grow at all?
I wonder if it knew it wasn’t meant to breathe fresh air,
Or that the rules to the race of life won’t be fair,
Or that it was never supposed to feel the heat of the sun,
Or that blossoming wasn’t even an option.
I wonder if it knew.
I wonder if it knew that its very existence would question the laws of nature.
That science and math would argue against its survival.
And that it had every reason in the world to fail and no one in the universe would blame it.
No one would shame it.
After all, how could a rose ever grow from the concrete?
Sometimes I wonder.
I wonder if it ever complained about the living conditions?
Did it feel less than?
Like, “I’ll never be picked for a bouquet because I’m from the concrete.”
Or like, or like, “I fear they judge me because I’m from the sidewalk.”
I’ve always wondered if it was called names by other flowers?
Did it ever wish to be like the others?
Was it singled out because it was different?
I wonder if people ignored it when they walked by?
Or did they stop and say hi?
Did they even notice it?
It saw no representation of itself so did it consider itself a weed?
Did it ever research the history behind it’s seed?
But then again I wonder, if it did know, would it have even grown at all?
Or would it fold under the weight of the odds stacked up against it and fall?
Did it only blossom because it was blind to the system formed against it?
Or did knowing the system helped it form against it?
Sometimes I wonder.
What if it felt unapproachable because of its thorns?
Unaccepted and misunderstood from the moment it was born.
Wishing to be different just to fit in some generic flower pot.
When will it be clear that they hold the power to make the corruption of power stop?
You see ’cause – we all know a rose that comes from the concrete.
A spiritual warrior of life, dancing to the drums of their heartbeat.
Moving forward, taking steps with sore feet.
Knowing that soon-day they will shower in glo-ry.
The world gives us enough reasons to quit,
all we need is to find one to continue.
It’s either you work in the kitchen or put yourself on the menu.
We come from rich bloodlines of Kings and Queens who ruled over nations.
We have ancestors who sacrificed themselves for small liberations.
So if I’ve been doing this forever, why would I quit?
But I think about it more than i’d like to admit.
I feel like saying “forget it! Ima give it up”
And use the rest of my time here to live it up
But fun and games just ‘aint gonna feed my pockets
So I rather invest in gold, not rock it
I rather go to school and put a paper on what i learned in the streets
all I know is forward, even when the next step smells like defeat
But I can’t give up now, my daughter is watching
my mom is cheering and my grandma’s coughing
my friends are waiting, my community’s pushing
At this point in my journey, self-love is the only cushion
Sometimes I look around and feel like I don’t belong where I’m at
But I close my eyes and think about the rose and there goes that
Sometimes I feel like my environment is overpowering me
But I think of the rose and feel a light from heavens showering me
Sometimes I feel like it’s impossible to grow and get the urge to run
But again, I think of the rose and remember it can be done.
So I tell you this – be like the rose that grew from the concrete and blossom against all odds.
I stand here today because my grandmother made the decision to jump a puddle. What leaps have you made, and where did you land?
Karen is called to the Stand
You are Karen, the third, are you not?
Your parents received the GI Bill not afforded to unrepentant negroes
Settled right into the WASPS nest of suburbia
Born of unearned privilege and lines so red
they must have been painted with the blood of those who were excluded.
I don’t have a racist bone in my body!
Let’s discuss the bones in the body Karen.
Is it possible your coccyx doesn’t support you rising for justice?
Have you ever been told your backbone only exists to support your audacity?
Hasn’t Black Twitter explained time and time again
Your phalanges aren’t feelings
That they shouldn’t
dial the police with phony pleas
touch our hair with fervent fascination
Or reach for our children
when you’ve yet to apologize
for demanding we raise your own.
But my family didn’t own slaves!
What will you take ownership of then Karen?
Did they auction or trade Black Lives at the TransAtlantic Bank of the Enslaved?
Is the family run business one of the many institutions built on the backs of Black folk?
Didn’t we discuss the proverbial problem of the backbone?
Isn’t the desire to mimicry and mock the degraded hereditary?
It’s time to stop being so divisive and come together!
Karen, where were you on the night Dr. Tom smacked the bottom
of the first white baby that came out of a nigger gal without her consent?
At what time did you call the police?
You didn’t hear of the labor or the birth?
How can an honest, Christian woman bake a rhubarb pie full of lies and then slice it?
I’ve never seen a solidarity so soiled with silence.
Your white feminism is still a suffrage movement living out loud
Your tears are rivulets of regrets that do not equate to reparations.
Do not pretend you are too out of spoons to have this conversation
all while accusing us of stealing the silverware anyway.
Think of a time you were silent during someone’s oppression; even if its your own.
What were you thinking, what were you feeling? What did the air smell like? Who was harmed?
Who was helped? Who is still hurting?
Write all that you can, then cut the poem down to three, six or nine lines.
Christina Pierre Louis
Before the Ashes
Before your body became ashes
And ashes dust
And dust spread in the winter wind
You were glowing
Full and overflowing
Like my favorite star in the sky
Hugged and loved selflessly
Determination pumped in your blood
Strength stretched in your limbs
Perseverance flexed in your muscles
Resilience beat in your heart
Humility breathed through your spirit
And your spirit
Still dances its way through my home
To the melody of a go to playlist
Full of feel good tunes
When the world feels too heavy of a thing to carry
I carry your memories
Like a good luck charm
Like good pieces of advice
As if to remind myself of all the amazing things you were and some
And each day
Each moment is a chance for me to do the same
To grow and become an amazing thing
What an honor to be a fruit on your family tree
Our family tree
A legacy thriving
And well worth continuing
Think of someone who you love dearly, deceased or living, and write a poem that honors or celebrates
Nha mai My mother
ku nha donna And grandmother
Es e flor di Djabraba Are flowers from Brava
Ma es terra ta trataze suma But this country treats them
Padja mortu… like dead grass
My mother is an alien
Who never even knew she was an alien
Until she landed on the shores of your huddled masses
Yearning to breathe free
And although her DNA has no link to any little green men on Mars
her identity is still somehow marred
By this little green card
She comes from a not-so-distant galaxy
Brimming with brilliant shades of the chocolate rainbow
Even if they have been overshadowed by blurred colonized lines
My mother is an alien
With native, intergalactic tongues
Deeply imbedded into her tonsils
That keep her from speaking your proper English
Without a heavily accented twang
She is a daughter of sub-Saharan sand dunes
Who is kin to Kunta Kinte
My mother is an alien
Who left HER mothership to go off and explore other signs of intelligent life
Beyond her own Milky Way
And chase these fleeting asteroids of
white washed American dreams
That sometimes BURST into technicolor nightmares
My mother is an alien
Who has lived in YOUR solar system for almost 50 years
Yet STILL gets treated like she is public enemy #1
And when we ask her about her ongoing battles with homesickness
She admits that she is scared
Terrified that she may no longer be foreign enough to go back
Yet is still considered TOO foreign to EVER belong here
But if the heart keeps asking for home
And she breaks down and FINALLY listens
And returns to her birth planet of tropical blue waters
And villages of brown faces
Shell have no choice BUT to stay
And return to the very terra firma that has sheltered her ancestors sanctified bones
For a lifetime of light years…
Abandoning me and these purple mountains majesties
My mother is an alien.
Who has had to remind a few of your fellow upstanding citizens
That by her simply honoring HER red, black and green
It does not diminish YOUR red, white and blue
She respects her adopted home
But has long grown weary of its slumlord tactics
Drained by an infrastructure
that continuously fails to acknowledge her culture and and her worth
Yet mocks, kidnaps, then carbon copies that shit
All for its own privileged convenience
And yet somehow someway
My mother STILL manages to muster up some patriotic love
For this land of
Keeping up with the Kardashians
And Donald Trump rallies
I just don’t have the heart to break the news to her
That it will NEVER love an alien like her
When was a time people made you feel like you didn’t belong? End the poem with a direct address or a question.
Social media apps
Got you losing reality
Didn’t subscribe to desensitization, confusion, fake news and all these comments How do I cancel it
Before it cancels me
I thought this was a tool
Instead I’m being drilled
Picked at and screwed
Over my thoughts, images and my image
When did this become high school
Snubbed for prom queen the snob always wins
Subbed in statuses
I remember the bathroom stalls marked up
Now it’s bodies
Not like the subway in Harlem
Everyone wanna be a barb and join a team
I still have PTSD
Watching George Floyd’s death changed me
How many triggers can be pulled without having to count the bullets Breona can’t tell us
The neighbors wall speaks louder than her voice
Another black woman silenced
In the dead of night
Protect Black Women is a hashtag
We are conditioned to put a pound sign
Maybe it should be a stop sign
Bright red so it can be read and not just seen
But we read people for filth
Full of negativity
My vibration is low
Too slow to tap tap tap in on the bigger picture
Waves of hate can penetrate
Even the deepest of waters
With a thirty second soundbite
Click, then debate
It’s faster than a chamber
Why aren’t these monitored ?
How long is a FB jail sentence anyway?
Is this reality?
Or a social experiment
A play of sorts
Where you can be whatever character while being judged on your character
I hate it in this world
I lucid dream often
That allow me to feel safe
Where accountability and evolution meet
The dark web doesn’t lurk here
It’s too busy trafficking children and women
In this realm I’m surrounded by my own shadows
We don’t play games we go hard at work
To build a cape so big made of Teflon
No cap, shells would bounce off
No puncture wounds or sharpened tongues could pierce me
I’d be at peace instead of overthinking about content
I’d be content with self
My emotions couldn’t be altered by the pretentious constructs of how to be, live and breathe
Competition and comparisons
Calling people out
Instead of calling them in
DMs replaces conversations
No need to be direct
No desire to hit someone’s line
Adopting treads that lose weight
But not suicidal thoughts
From turning to devices
Addicted it’s a vice
That releases hormones that causes the body to react in pleasure
Twitter fingers racing like heartbeats
Perpetuating ideologies of a system set up to destroy confidence and feelings And guess what?
It all comes at a price
You can’t buy self esteem
From an Ad or App
But if you show I.D. you can be Verified
Blue check marks is your validation Unlocking ID
All of us have super egos
We gotta keep our egos balanced Gotta take breaks and fast
Is grieving linear?
window – /windȏ/ noun
Write a letter to yourself acknowledging all the ways you’ve grown from past relationships. How has it
strengthened the relationship you have with yourself?
My name is Pedro Cruz and I am the Director of Youth Development Programs at IBA (Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion). I am a father of two beautiful girls and a lifelong community artist. I have been working in the community field for over 15+ years. I help coach a little league baseball team twice a week. I have been a guest speaker/performer at Boston’s MFA and Harvard. My passion is art and community work. I am blessed to be able to do both on a daily basis.
DiDi Delgado (DiDi/they/them) is a Radical Visionary and Philanthropist, Award-Winning Author and Poet, Experienced Anti-Racism Educator, Engaging Public Speaker, and a Passionate Advocate and Activist for Black women, non-men and MaGes (Marginalized Genders). DiDi is on a mission to dismantle systems of oppression (including white supremacy) while uplifting the voices of Black MaGes (Marginalized Genders), Black women and Black non-men. Using art and advocacy, DiDi’s aim is to bridge the gaps between the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual identity, and orientation–all while practicing radical philanthropy through direct giving models. DiDi is currently Head of Operations for The Society Of Urban Poetry (S.O.U.P.). Through poetry slams at local and online venues, DiDi creates space for art, community, healing, and for people to give breadth to their untold stories. DiDi is the creator, host and executive producer of The Full Set, a podcast that centers Black voices in intimate and candid conversations about Blackness in all of its facets. These conversations focus on the often unheard stories of hustlers, intellectual heavyweights, Blackademics, single mothers, and front-line community organizers, all through a Black, queer, feminist lens.
Christina Pierre Louis is a poetic soul whose story is an inspiration to every closet writer seeking to tap into their hidden gifts. Christina found her love for spoken word and the stage through tragedy when she lost a dear friend in a car accident in 2012. After writing a tribute poem to her heaven bound friend, her touching expression and vivid imagery became an instant crowd favorite, and by popular demand her poetry grew a life of its own. Christina’s poems range from touching romance and light humor to prideful love of God, self, family, and country. Gracing stages in Boston and beyond, Christina aspires to let her spoken word career flow as high as God’s will, while she gathers the pieces to eventually publish her very own collection of works.
Jeannie Nunes is a writer, performer and poet who was born and raised in the city of Boston. She is a member of the Society of Urban Poetry (S.O.U.P) and was on the 2015 Lizard Lounge National Slam Team. She has performed at such venues as The Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, The Paramount Theatre in Boston, and The Nuyorican Cafe in New York City.
Amanda Shea is a multidisciplinary artist residing in Boston. She has performed spoken word poetry at numerous venues throughout Boston, including the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Art. She served as an official host for the 2018 and 2019 Boston Art & Music Soul Festival and the 2019 Arts Equity Summit. She serves as a radio host on Live Free or Die Radio. Shea traveled to Washington D.C. to perform at the Peace Institute and the National Press Club in February 2020. Shea was recently named one of WBUR The Artery Top 25 artists transforming the cultural landscape. In 2022, she will be going on tour for the third time traveling to Africa. The “Awake” tour seeks to explore the role of art as both a revolutionary and spiritual tool for social justice and spiritual awakening in humans. Amanda is an educator known for creating curriculum for workshops for different art forms–with a focus in poetry, public speaking, healing, and liberation throughout several schools and organizations in Boston, MA.
“the way I bleed on the paper feels different, i want to share that with the world.” Durane West is a poet, performer, curator, and teaching artist based in Boston, MA. West writes to examine his healing process and vulnerability within the struggle of being authentically black in America. He is co-winner of the City of Boston’s 2021 Poem for Roxbury contest and has been published by 826 Boston, Write on the Dot, and Mother Mercy. Durane currently writes for Boston Hassle and is part of the Commonwealth Corps Advisory Committee.