The Exchange is the Weekly’s new poetry corner, where a poem or piece of writing is presented with a prompt. Readers are welcome to respond to the prompt with original poems, and pieces may be featured in the next issue of the Weekly.
To Our Flags
After “Meditations in an Emergency” (titled after Frank O’Hara) by Cameron Awkward-Rich
the first time i got pepper sprayed at point blank,
i pretend We all on the ground praying,
hoping a medic will spot Us—We’re waving our bandanas
in the air like flags…
i pledge my allegiance to that paisley,
stained and covered in sweat.
some people open their eyes in the morning and just live;
i clench my teeth while i sleep
grinding in between my dreams
i wake up and it breaks my heart
the flight of children and doves all the same,
the city of tents on spikes so the unhoused can stay restless
women hawking roses for graves, all of them break my heart.
who needs hallucinogens when you could get a concussion
free of charge? if you pretend.
in reality, a slice of my paycheck pays for all this rah rah shit—
all this riot gear
you know what’s cheaper than a police officer?
but everyone’s on the front line and We’re sober,
getting our asses beat for the low cost of 1.8 billion dollars a year.
and the sanitary workers that clean our blood up off the sidewalks need a raise;
i pledge my allegiance to them niggas too,
but back to my troops.
who you know could get caught with their empty hands up
and still get a 21-gun-salute?
and the whole world will say their name and never even know what it means.
and strangers will tag their praises on to walls
that get painted over in neighborhoods where niggas like that use to live.
when a cop dies,
the whole neighborhood stops. the funeral procession is a long parade
of police cars and fire trucks.
my soldiers deserve the same energy. so
We organize and stop the whole neighborhood, too.
and the cops gone show up whether they’re invited or
We got fire trucks, paddy wagons, jail buses
and fuck it garbage trucks too.
when washington park got hit by the blizzard this year wasn’t a damn salt truck in sight,
but they at this protest though.
hell! have the mayor come out and speak a few words,
so she can get stomped into the earth where our soldiers been laid.
some of Us really know what dirt taste like;
that’s what it takes to be a soldier. or so it seems.
and i pledge my allegiance to each and every one of Y’all.
“hand on my heart
hand on my stupid heart.”
Chima Ikoro is the community organizing editor for the Weekly. She last wrote about Juneteenth becoming a recognized federal holiday.
Prompt: “How have the ‘powers that be’ failed the person next to you?”
“Powers that be” could be educational systems, lawmakers, governing bodies, or anything you consider an institution of power.
Submissions can be sent to bit.ly/ssw-exchange or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.