Minneapolis (Carlos Barria / Reuters)
Poems, Songs, Stories

Insurrection poem

I wrote this poem last week and submitted it to Rattle‘s Poets Respond series. Since it was not accepted, but I still wanted to share it, I read it during Rattle’s open mic the following Sunday, and I am posting the text for you here now.

(If you’re not familiar with an erasure poem, there’s a bit of an explanation in the footnote, but for your reference, [ ] are used to indicate words I added to the source material, and italicized phrases were taken from the source material verbatim.)

Insurrection, Again[1]

I.

Looters fire
a Police Department, guilty —
white — savage.
Caught on camera, the attack was broadcast
worldwide.
Fury — stoked by years of inequality— spilled
into five days of rioting,
ignited a national conversation that
[has to be repeated] today.

It [is] criminal,
[this thing we call] justice and law.

Ocular proof seemed compelling, yet
[They] told us we couldn’t trust our lying eyes.

A black year,
under the influence
of office and minutes.
More cops stood by, watching
fractures, broken bones, permanent damage —
excessive use of force.
Later, a jury
found four officers not guilty.
The unrest began.

Residents set fires, looted and destroyed liquor stores, grocery stores, retail shops and fast food restaurants.  

[Silence]
was violent.
[Still is.]

Tension had already been mounting:
the unemployment rate was [high],
ravaging the area.
Another contributing factor: The same [spring],
shot and killed, [several] African-American[s].

[The] accused? Fine.

II.

The incident
intensified the system.
Anger was deepening against police.
African-Americans did not feel protected,
reported being harassed without cause.
An occupying force, biased against people of color
and civil rights
was aggressive, policing with
abusive [power].
An open campaign to suppress and contain
didn’t distinguish between a suspected criminal
and African-American[s]
driving nice cars.

The riots began at an intersection
[of] news reports and firsthand accounts. 

That first night,
the cops [drove] right by
without stopping.
Strangers, viciously rioting,
started coming in.
Police were not deployed immediately.
[The] chief announced
the city was not adequately prepared.
There was no official plan
for social unrest on [that] scale.

The most astounding thing [is],
that night
repeated itself.

III.

On [June] 1, the third day of the riots,
People [don’t] just want to say,
“Can we all get along? Can we get along?”
[People want results.]

During five days of unrest, there [are] more deaths.
More people injured, alleged looters and arsonists arrested.
A curfew announced.
[The National Guard deployed.]
More buildings damaged or destroyed.
[And what of the four officers charged?]

Slowly, residents [will] return to their everyday routines. But
social issues [will] not be resolved, that video
[just another in] a long line of brutal videos to go viral.
Issues such as racial profiling are as evident now
as they were in 1992 Los Angeles.

Ain’t nothing changed but the year it is.

 

[1] This is a “found” or “erasure” poem composed of words from the 2017 NPR article, “When LA Erupted in Anger: A Look Back at the Rodney King Riots,” by Anjuli Sastry and Karen Grigsby Bates, accessed June 20, 2020 (https://n.pr/2Yi1EBi).

 

Copyright © 2020, Caitlin M.S. Buxbaum. Do not copy-paste text without written permission from the author. Do not share online or on paper without credit to the poet and the journalists.

 

Questions? Please leave a comment.

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