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K.LEE | Two Poems

When They Accuse You of Destruction

after Audre Lorde

bell’s echo in war, your laughter

will be like this, this may be

knowledge, this being known

will break the world,

the sight of you, you are

will be unaccompanied, partial

to living, your living, you will have

been giant in smaller minds, be outside

too long, shouting color into dusk,

you beast, wholeness of very small

things served raw, so raw your holding

tender such small lovelessness,

echo of such smallness and such

loneliness, such loneliness your choosing

rage, choose blistering, choose

love will have already chosen

you, the uses of anger, your mind

so wild, brutal, so able

to love, each facet your own destruction

in equal measure, instead

say you chose your people,

the promises you keep

A Difference Between Us

we already know, they'll come

Black folks we sleep fully clothed

my pops used to sweat sour bullets

dark bulk seeping shrouds sleeves clinging

wet band-aids or hands on a steering wheel

linked behind a back in the air or reaching

for a waist all depending on the time of night

twelve percent of the U.S. population could be my father

moonlighting as night watchman yet the man

retired every night in pants and a pocket shirt

socks pulled up just in case because

we never know how

waterfowl rest one side at a time


nocturnal creatures still know to seek shadow

in blanket darkness prepared always

what will come

this is a difference, between us

A few good words with K.LEE

PDS: In, “When They Accuse You of Destruction,” I was struck by the franticness of the subject’s grasp at life, “partial / to living, your living, you will have / been giant in smaller minds, be outside / too long, shouting color into dusk, // you beast, wholeness of very small / things served raw”, and the pain of the word “accuse” in the title, how that frames the subject as someone made monster. Talk to us a little about the birth of this poem, and about its manifesto—what truth is this poem telling?

KL: I finished both of these pieces after watching a PBS documentary, The Changing Same, on poet Lamar Wilson’s activism and writing on the 1943 mob lynching of Claude Neal.” I got caught up in feeling moved by the idea of the costs – actual danger, loneliness, hopelessness – folks carry in working for justice in spaces/moments where peace is kept/enforced through violent tools of silence/forgetting. So, this poem tries to be about what it feels like to work for justice when choosing otherwise means erasure – whether and how this can be choice. I was thinking about Audre Lorde, History as the work of the forgotten against forgetting. I was thinking about Pecola Breedlove, more than 22 black trans women murdered this year, about Latinx children still being locked up, Ursula K. Le Guin–our broad history of making people into barbarians (like folks who don’t get vaccinated) in order to keep distant from painful truths.

I appreciate your use of the words “franticness” and “grasp.” I tried to build cadence in this piece toward a sense of franticness through repetition, punctuation, and lineation. I think the subject perceives they're up against annihilation – a use of silence. I am so often writing about silence, memory and power. The title of this piece is a remix on Audre Lorde’s 1981 Keynote speech “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” and her poem “For Each of You,” quoted therein: “(you will need / to remember this when you are accused of destruction.)” I chose the title “When They Accuse You of Destruction” to center the painfulness of the subject’s experience of positioning – the complex sort of power that comes with being/being made into a “we,” and having/flexing into a “they.”

PDS: Talk to our readers about your writing process—I think often as black writers who write about blackness, there can be a perceived false notion that we can just tap into some Great Black Suffering™ bank and write. Talk about how it really happens.

KL: I think about what it means to be a black writer. Earlier this year I met my favorite poet. He was catching a ride, so I hurriedly appreciated his writing on the black experience. Then I said “but that’s not all you write about.” I caught that bile, performing internalized racism’s narrative of black art and the black experience as separate, excess, non-whole - about pain, exclusively. Race isn’t named in a lot of what we write, and every narrative is raced. I'll assert there is no such thing as a non-black narrative – We Out Here. I think when I’m writing explicitly about blackness, and using suffering as the lens, I am most often writing consciously toward what we need from whiteness in order to talk about justice. Tools like rage, confession and satire can give these narratives extra power. When I am writing explicitly about race, I am reaching for the power of Diaspora as lens. When I get a poem down, my mind is usually saturated with cascading associations on an idea – everything I read, watch, do or fart reminds me of the idea; I consume associations until the idea solidifies and whittles into something simple and (maybe) relatable, like a marble.

"A Difference Between Us" is about why it's so hard for folks with power to show up for marginalized folks. The difference between comfort and safety in real life means some of us are always vigilant. I was reminded of how, when I was a kid, every black kid thought some relative was going to get dragged out of the house at night by a mob of white hoods wielding god on fire. I still worry my dad will get pulled over by the police, and he passed away a few years ago. I'm still kept in this fear, though I wear it less often. These risks are relatives of the risks a trans person takes in presenting authentically every day; how in the Pacific Northwest some folks pack go-bags to flee The Big One, while Latinx families keep go-bags to stay.

PDS: What singular poem would you like to hear every night before you go to sleep? What poem soothes you (or conversely, what poem knocks you the hell out?)?

This question is all possibilities. I have a habit of memorizing poems – I’ve got an arsenal of companions.

My favorite poem is Audre Lorde’s “A Litany For Survival.” She says, “when we are silent, we are still afraid” and this is a core truth for me. I try to read most days, and honestly haven’t gone one week in the last year without reading something by José Olivarez, Cortney Lamar Charleston or Hanif Abdurraqib.

K.LEE is a mental health worker from Springfield, OR. She is writing about grief, and other growing things. She has a B.A. from Harvard University and an MSW from Portland State. Her poems can also be found in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, About Place Journal and, upcoming, in The Rumpus.

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