Monday, April 3, 2017

Out From the Narrow Place

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
      Genesis 4:8-9

Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder and misconduct charges in the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald… Van Dyke's attorney, Daniel Herbert, has said Van Dyke feared for his life and insists that the video doesn't tell the full story.

      CNN, December 2015

This shall be a day of remembrance for you.

In times to come, when your children ask you,
“What is the meaning of these precepts, these statutes, and these laws,
that the Lord our God has laid down for you?”

You shall tell your children,

“Once we were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt,
and God brought us out of that narrow place by his mighty hand.

Before our eyes God worked great and terrible signs
and wonders against Pharaoh and all his house.

And he brought us out from there to lead us to the promised land.

And God commanded us to observe all the statutes,
to love God, for our own good forever
so that we might live as on this day.

And for us justice will be to take care
to observe all these commandments
before the Lord our God as he has directed us.”


And to love our neighbors as ourselves,

is this not the first and last?

And are we not as bound to struggle
for the freedom of our fellow persecuted as our own?

Remember, now,

at Homan Ave and Fillmore St
in the heart of North Lawndale,
there is a dull brick building
a city block long,
with cameras watching
from the corners of the roof
and a few unmarked cars parked outside,
beneath the fire escapes,
beside the steel garage doors.

If you ask the police officers
standing around what it is, they’ll say,

“I don’t know what this is.”
“This isn’t a police station”
“We don’t hold people here.”

But if you ask Kory Wright,
he might tell you
about the nightmare
he and his relatives lived through
in that building

On the morning of his 20th birthday
a hot day in June,
when he and his cousin were on his porch

He was having his hair braided
while another cousin and a friend
played video games downstairs

A woman walked up to them
and asked for change for a fifty
to buy crack cocaine

Three minutes later,
officers in plain clothes
swarmed the house
arrested the four boys
and took them to the black site

no rights read, no calls made,
no prints taken, no papers filed

Kory told the officers it was his birthday
and they sang Happy Birthday to him

they put the boys in separate cells
the size of cubicles

An officer zip-tied Kory to a bench
strapping his hands on both sides
told him “It’s gonna get a little hot in here”
then left

The temperature rose

For six hours, Kory sat sweating and hurting
with no water or toilet or phone

In another room, his friend Deandre Hutcherson,
19, was cuffed, arms spread as if being crucified
while officers punched him in the face,
stomped on his groin, and interrogated him
about crimes he knew nothing about

When pressed on allegations
of police abuse at Homan Square,
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said,

“That’s not true.
We follow all the rules.”


When your children ask you
“What is the purpose of these laws?”

Tell them we were once slaves,
and that is why we know what freedom means.

And that is how our religion came to us:

As a mission
to set the world free –

Tell them
we were once captives
in mitzrayim, the narrow place,
and that the God of Nature brought us out
by parting an ocean and softening a heart

Tell them
we obey these laws
because they come from freedom
and serve that purpose only

and that the darkest, narrowest place of all
is not in Egypt or in Homan Square
but in our very hearts and minds
if we forget the meaning of these words:

Tzedek, Tzedek tir’dof / l’ma’an tich’yeh /
v’yarash’ta et-ha’aretz / asher Adonai eloheycha noten lakh

Justice, Justice shall you pursue, so that you may live
and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you

Put these words upon your hearts.
Teach them to your children.
Talk about them when you sit at home
and when you walk along the road
when you lie down and when you get up

Tattoo them upon your skin
and pin them to your clothes

Tzedek, Tzedek tir’dof
l’ma’an tich’yeh

Write them on protest signs
and frame them over your bed

Tzedek, Tzedek tir’dof
l’ma’an tich’yeh

Justice, and Justice alone shall you follow,

so that you
may live.

Monday, February 6, 2017

prayer for Shabbat

Come, let us be glad for Life
for the week we have just lived
for the miles we have walked,
or traveled in buses or trains, or driven

for the meals prepared
and the groceries shopped
and the emails sent
and the hours clocked
the uniforms washed,
the dogs walked,
the people we served
and the young ones we taught

for the lessons we learned
and horizons we glimpsed
for the works we have done
and the work still unfinished

let us gather our strength
for whatever comes next

and be glad
for the sun
and the trees
and our breath

let us rest
on the rock
of our salvation

and be blessed

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

This is the Year (2017)

after Martín Espada, and all visionaries

This is in fact the year that squatters evict landlords,
as we occupy all streets,
ending the silence, singing in harmony,
shutting down malls and boards of trade,

This is the year of reckless democracy:
Freedom Squares and tent cities
outside their torture sites and banks,
homeless sleeping on the steps of city hall,
ciphers and bagpipes echoing among the throngs,
millions of lights going out all at once
and guerrilla radio blasting
like Sandburg's mob at last awakening

praise you people, water of life protectors,
bless you truth-speakers, bless all your tents,
come drummers, come sousaphones, 

come hordes of screamers,

praise this Music of your loud rage

that is your hungry Love

This is the year the white house is decked out with graffiti,
televisions are used as box drums and churches as house clubs
for the after-parties of the revolution

This is the year the bubble bursts for Koch and Goldman-Sachs
and billionaires wash the dishes of their servants

This is the year that prisons are filled not with boys who sold pot,
but warlords who ordered the bombs to be dropped
            and stole the wealth of countries for Coca Cola & Walmart
            and raped the earth and its waters for Exxon Mobil & BP

This is the year a law is passed

prohibiting police officers from gathering

in groups larger than two

enforced by mobs of brown-skinned teenagers
armed with tanks and poetry

This is the year the ghosts of the murdered haunt the halls of power
till the suits and blue uniforms flee to the streets

This is the year Dred Scott resurrects
from the Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis
to appeal his case
This is the year Monsanto goes bankrupt
in lawsuits lost to farmers in India

This is the year factory workers, bus drivers,
nurses, waitresses and busboys
run the factories, buses,
hospitals and restaurants

This is the year kids go to school

and teachers ask “What do you want to learn?”

and whatever they say

whether it's how to build a bike or how to make a pizza
how to play the drums or how to write a poem,
how to save the earth or the history of their people,
Chinese, farming, or what stars are made of

the teachers have to learn it with them

Éste es el año que la educación de “English-Only” está prohibido
y el bilingüismo es un requisito de la ciudadanía

This is the year bicycles swarm the streets
with car lanes squeezed to the margins

This is the year marijuana is legal, cheap and ubiquitous,
and fast food is banned as dangerous and addictive!

This is the year the whole justice system is indicted.

This is the year the presidents of Mount Rushmore

morph into the faces of Crazy Horse,

Sitting Bull, Black Elk, and Fools Crow,

This is the year banners unravel,
barbed-wire fences crumble,

guards set capitves free
and prisons topple

and the last are first
and the first are last

and we give what we can
& take what we need

This is the year food and water are free
and gas is too expensive for everyone

in fact, this is the year money is worthless
and land is priceless

this is the year we remember

that we cannot buy or sell the earth
because   we  

If Occupy began

as a vision
of people
            having the debts that kept us slaves cleared,
then This is the year

If #BlackLivesMatter began
as a vision
of people
            walking the streets without fear,
            then This is the year

If every protest begins
as a vision
of people
empowered in body & spirit
Then this is the year it is so

if eyes are eyes...

so may every silent mouth,
dry as thirsty dirt,

with the music
of Justice.