Lexicon of Our Own Undoing        

                                 Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church arson
                                          Charleston, June 17, 2015


Felt it rising again this morning

stark venom of small
of insignificant of who
really gives a shit I exist

Voice constricting at dawn
river veiled
echo of ships lost in grey

New normal of fire
beloved forest beyond my door
as much threat as solace  

Where now do I lay claim to myself

Add in the charcoal skin
of the homeless man
who shivved me with guilt
while I was already shivving myself
and it was over

Does it matter
that the word surging through me
never stained my lips

as though venom unexpressed
were any less venom

as though the posture of love
might eclipse hate


I scatter ashes not in observance
but in disavowal

hurt so long-perfected
punctuating our genetic scripture

the resonance of father brother even
a beloved soft-spoken uncle
yet for me that sandpaper exhalation


So long ago I felt the letters align
before I could hear the hurt emerge

consonants as harsh as they were innate

not us
burned into me as though
our ancestral tongue might encode exile
for dissent
for what I refuse to hold
in the same mouth as meyn mentshn

my people

bane of the Jewish millennia
the bane we become


Then Charleston
my brother
it was a bunch of schvarzes
better them than us

How blithely compassion forsakes
those who've survived

I try to hear the harm behind him
to refract myself
through the shattered glass of history                 

But to be me and also be that
to disown my own  

a mother's hands which scoured
the past from my moment
essential yes that set me amidst
and set me apart

voices that insisted Judaic meant chosen
meant touched by vistas
which might even uproot hate
from the sacred soil of language
before it became blood escaping into earth

Bright knowing of Jewishness
slow acid of isolation
the cancer of not us
growing from soul to throat


High school winter

My posse in the jeep
gunning up that too-moneyed hill

Older housekeeper bent into shining ice
as she pressed toward her bus
breath luminous against black skin

Virulence from my friends
igniting the air as they screamed

The word scorching through me
its arc from submerged to spacious
the urge to belong too shrill
for abstractions like wrong to prevail

Terror before the dark
realpolitik of my voice

before the lexicon of our own undoing

Labyrinth of adrenaline and despair
as before sin I staggered
certain the road
would rupture beneath us

certain she too would stagger
then turn and sear me with the poison I
the sole Jew
had just made hers
in the next breath of stillness
life spoke at last

She never even flinched