It’s hard to remain human
on a day when mercy is a frozen river,
when the news informs me tomorrow’s
as bleak as it was yesterday, tells me
yesterday couldn't have left love
lingering listlessly on my bed all eager
hands and doe-eyed, says
there’s no room for beauty in this fight.
Liberals tell me, we must remain
vigilant. We can’t rest, relax,
let down our guard, but
don’t they know I’ve been vigilant
all my life? Yielding to white spaces
like ocean to keel.

I was vigilant when,
in high school, white friends
proclaimed, I don’t see
color, then painted their bodies
with sun, as if skin were a lipstick
they could apply to the perfect shade of
not too dark. These days
it’s disguised in praise, like
“what a beautiful mix you are, as if to say,
be grateful you’re not as black
as you could have been.

I’ve vigilantly guarded my mind
around men who only valued my body.
Guarded my body from men
who think permission is for “pussies,”
who think a fistful is a proper unit
of measurement. When the cab driver
told me I must have a white parent
because I don’t “sound” black,
I vigilantly wrapped myself in my arms,
tried to imagine the sounds he’d make
without vocal cord or tongue
or his privilege.

Each time someone cracks a joke.
about a black man’s disproportionate
prowess, about a black man’s "laziness",
about a black boy’s "good for nothing father"
I want to vigilantly cradle my grown
brother in my arms and sing him
something soft and sweet to keep
his fists steady and his mind right, but
what right do I have keeping him in check
when they don’t take the time
to check their ignorance?

We try our best not to
but sometimes a woman must walk
down a dark street alone, must count
the number of parked vans, must keep
to the middle of the road, must stay out
of reach, must keep her eyes peeled, must
walk with wide steps, grab her crotch
like a man, spit like a man
(things they teach teen girls in self-defense),
must turn herself into something
a man would never desire, must be
masculine, be careful, be vigilant.

So when liberals say,
this is how we fight back, this is how
we’ll win, I want to tear my clothes off,
walk naked into rush hour traffic,
cut my feet on broken glass and car fragments,
breathe in exhaust fumes, let the poison
sink into my skin, grow an extra limb,
heart, head, become something
un-neutered, volatile, dangerous,
become something able to withstand
the next four years.