- BLACK VOICES SERIES
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.