Absurdity, Rivers Run Red and Orangeburg: Poems by Bonita Penn

by Sampsonia Way    /  June 15, 2012  / No comments

Bonita Lee Penn House Profile

Poet Bonita Lee Penn. Photo: Camila Centeno

Bonita Lee Penn is a poet and author based in Pittsburgh’s North Side. She is currently the managing editor for Soul Pitt Quarterly Magazine and the author of two books of poetry: The B Side (2011) and The Visiting Room (2007).

Sampsonia Way is delighted to share three poems by Penn: “Absurdity or if I hear one more racist thing about the President of the United States,” “Rivers Run Red” and “Orangeburg SC – February 8, 1968.”

Read also an interview with Penn. here

Absurdity or if I hear one more racist thing about the President of the United States

She is generations of tireless
Blacks, in her stance against hatred:
She is rings of Muhammad Ali, light on her feet,
Her groove a rhythm of ducks and weaves in case they want to spit in her face,
slap her
laugh out loud at her
tie a rope around her neck
dare her to jump off.

She knows these pale riders
versus dark horses.
Wonder if they jig to Hank Williams Jr.’s
ignorance
or vacation with Rick Perry in Niggerhead.
Exclusive and
full of
excuses.
Their maid, chauffer, high school coach was Black.
They have supported dark horses.

She wonders
how many really hate
her black skin
her black diction.
Hate her brown eyes, wide hips,
The way she can sense their hate,
her mind filters rushed motions, of
lips that whisper,
niggerbitch.

In case they want to
knock her down
step on her
compress her last breath
stifle her shouts.
Capture her
sell her
revoke, reinvent, reenact slavery.
Chain her
whip her
rape her,
her mother, daughter, son.

The president is Black: looks Black
has a Black wife, two daughters, Black.
Wears the Blackman’s swagger, coolness.

Did they watch the inaugural sky
from the safety of their living room?
Did they anxiously await the storm of watermelons,
fried chicken and basketballs free falling,
from the sky, staining the red, white, and blue landscape.

Orangeburg SC – February 8, 1968

Police, armed with carbines, pistols,
riot guns, short-barreled
shotguns. Fired into
demonstrators, who flooded
the darken street like
a congregation of black crows. All
meeting at the same place, with the same
need — to be heard, at full volume,
like shots that pierced the night
air, found a resting place, in
the warmth of flesh.

Flesh, that inherited the
mosaic lash design, souvenirs
from time spent, naked, skin
stripped, whipped, beaten. Those
two nights in Orangeburg,
the police reminded them, that
they once: sold us
unclothed us
probed us
like cattle
battered
bruised, some of us died,
but many of us survived,
and now the survivors move like flood waters,
toward the police with guns, and we are still,
determined to face death, in order to break
free. Free like our ancestors who stood and
and refused to turn the other cheek, and died
for the privilege, to be free.

The police have no dead to carry, we
do. Those who died before this
night, from way back, we bury
what was left of our own:
blistered skin
bound, dragged
drowned
hung.

Easy for America to say
it’s time to
move forward.

In 1983, sheets of justice covered
F.B.I., S.C. Highway Patrol and local police.
They, buried their deeds.

Truth, a gauntlet of lies:
shut the fuck up black people
if you only shut the fuck up and take
the beating the whipping the lynching
take this stick up your ass,
and smile.

Rivers Run Red

Walk beside our rivers of red
deep red the blood of so many of us.

Hear the cry of the 3-year old
a woman confined and beat upon with baby in arms
a man chased, pulled from a house, beaten, kicked, stoned, trampled and hanged
in the riot of New York City in 1863.

Place your hands in the rushing waters feel
Tiny hands grabbing at you.

Philadelphia, Columbia, Trenton, Southwark, Lancaster, Bloomfield,
Rochester 1863.

Memphis 1866
46 Blacks and 2 Whites killed, 90 homes, 12 schools, 4 churches burned.

Listen closely to the moving waters that run red
Hear the voices of men, women and children
“Why are you doing this?”
“Hide the children.”
“Why?”

Colfax, Louisiana 1872
Indiscriminate massacre of 50 blacks and the killing of 280, 2 whites died
Government took no action, again.

Atlanta, Georgia 1906
Blacks defending themselves, police shooting into the crowd, then began the general
Destruction of Negro property and lives

Our rivers have run red with our blood long before some of your knew riots

Walk besides our rivers of red
Deep red the blood of so many of us

For being black, for wanting jobs, for standing up for our rights
To be left alone to live our lives.

Chester, Philadelphia, Houston 1917
East St. Louis, Missouri 1917
6,000 blacks driven from their homes
President Wilson took no action
A man trying to escape attack by 30 / 40 men, knocked down, kicked, beaten then
Shot in his face 5 times.

They ravaged the black community, stabbing, clubbing, shooting, hanging, they chased the Negroes from their homes
no accurate count of the dead
Our dead.

Walk beside our rives of red
Deep red the blood of so many of us.

Chicago 1919
Drowning of a black youth who ventured across an imaginary lien in the water
Again driven from homes, burned
Again no action from police
Elaine, Arkansas 1919
Tulsa, Oklahoma 1921
Rosewood, Florida 1923
New York, New York 1935
Detroit 1943
Los Angeles 1965

Keep us down, keep us poor, keep us in our place
Crimes against us.

Place your hand in the rushing waters feel
Tiny hands grabbing at you

Our rivers have run red long before
Long before driving while black was illegal
Rodney King
Johnny Gammage
Rodney King
Johnny Gammage

Before walking while black was illegal
Trayvon Martin
Jordan Miles
Trayvon
Jordan.

Walk beside our rivers of red
Deep red the blood of so many of us

Walk besides our rivers.

About the Author

Sampsonia Way is an online magazine sponsored by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh that seeks to protect and advocate for writers who may be endangered, to educate the public about threats to writers and literary expression, and to create a community in which endangered writers thrive and literary culture is a valued part of life.

View all articles by Sampsonia Way

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