These Lines

I resonated with much of Austin Channing Brown’s recent post about “unity” to her e-mail newsletter “Roll Call.” Austin encourages her readers to be aware of ways we might be asked to participate in a kind of unity that works against justice rather than for it. You can check out the post here if you’re interested – it’s worth reading.

This poem, entitled “These Lines,” encapsulates some of my reflections and points of resonance.

These lines are old, too old,
    like time etched into limestone faces
        monolithic and unmoved,
                unmoving, and

the face of founding father is
    the face of the slaveholder is
        the face of the confederate,
            the face of the white moderate,

the face of CEOs and pastors
    like priest-jesters choosing their captivity
        to live and serve in courts 
            of dying systems, and

these lips through all these centuries
    have uttered the same words, 
        lines that have lived too long
            like dreams deferred

like blasphemies still spoken after
    time has shown them lethal lies 
        too many times.
            These lies still dress in power,

clothe themselves in tones of wisdom, 
    yet upon examination 
        show themselves thin masks 
            for white supremacy;

and yet we’re trained to trust,
    trained to believe
        the ones who speak 
            with sincere eyes and

faith in their own goodness that runs deep. 
    So speak, keep speaking, 
        if you must, these lines,
            of ships so large that take so long to turn,

of donors we must not offend,
    of increments and evolution,
        the survival of the institution,
            and the need for patience, always patience;

keep on speaking, speak your violence,
    do not leave it silent―
        speak it, do not prop it any longer
            on soft lies of innocence, 

speak stress into the bones 
    that can’t afford to wait another day 
        for justice, won’t be put off 
            one more generation and 

another still; keep speaking 
    all your lies, for as you speak 
        you speed the day 
            we will no longer listen,

speed the day we will no longer stand
    and lay the gift of our participation
        at the feet of shit-filled institutions
            that have lost, or sold,

their souls.

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