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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, May 10, 2018.
About this Poem 

“In September 2017, ICE conducted a massive raid called Operation Safe City targeting sanctuary cities across the country. The largest number of arrests took place in Philadelphia, where 107 immigrants were swept up in just a few days. As an immigrant justice organizer, I was conducting emergency Know-Your-Rights trainings for people in the Indonesian community in Philly, most of whom are here also because of long-standing xenophobic currents in our homeland. I was struggling with the limits of language to speak to that moment as a microcosm of the much bigger moment of fear that currently dominates U.S. culture and politics, because the language of resistance can so often devolve to self-righteousness and false comfort. Out of that struggle came this poem.”
—Cynthia Dewi Oka

Redacted from a Know-Your-Rights Training Agenda—

That a potholed street in the middling borough of Collingswood, New Jersey, bears the name Atlantic, after an all-consuming body of water.
 
That all-consuming is Atlas’ curse to bear the heavens on his shoulders.
 
That after the fall of the gods, half of the heavens is darkness.
 
That inside the car speeding down the street, I believe I am safe from being halved. 
 
That “I” am not a white box, but a body of water.
 
That white is a pattern of boys who expect to live long enough to become men.
 
That some of these boys are whistling by on their bikes, and behind them, clear as a dream, welcome candles in the windows framed by blooms of vervain.
 
That “welcome” means I thought I was not afraid of the dark.
 
Since the jade scrubs of the cancer ward.
 
Since the florescent grid of the factory and the vista of small bones in my father’s collar while I was interpreting for the twenty-something-year-old white citizen,
 
                             “Tell your dad he can quit or I can fire him.”
 
Grief had already burst its cocoon; it ate him like an army of moths from the inside.
 
That brown men and women kept stitching jackets under the heavens of the machines.
 
Welcome.
 
That a moth is trapped in the car with me – it will die, but I do not want to practice florescence alone.
 
Like a first language bleeding hearts call, speaking truth to power.
 
I don’t know how they don’t know that power doesn’t care.
 
That watching fires go out will become a pattern.
 
That fire is everywhere, and therefore, cheap.
 
That the hole in my foundation is all-consuming and at its bottom a frangipani tree opens its yellow hands.
 
That POLICE ICE is printed in yellow or white on the jacket of the night.
 
That the night walks freely among the ranks of the sun.
 
That a body of water parted once like a red skirt then sealed over the armored horses of Egypt.
 
That Whitney Houston is a bone blasting
 
out the car windows.
 
That tonight, the night after, the night after that, for as long as the distance between god and a pothole, a moth’s flight will spell,
 
                                	“They are coming for you.”

Copyright © 2018 by Cynthia Dewi Oka. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Cynthia Dewi Oka. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

 Cynthia Dewi Oka. Photo credit: Cathie Berrey-Green.

Cynthia Dewi Oka

Cynthia Dewi Oka is the author of Salvage (Northwestern University Press, 2017). She is a member of the Sanctuary Advocate Coalition, which works to expand sanctuary in vision and practice through the framework of black-brown unity. She lives in Collingswood, New Jersey.

by this poet

poem
Behind disinfected curtains,
           beyond touch of sunrise
devouring the terrible gold

           of leaves, a man could be
his own eternal night. City
           flattened to rubble, his

surviving height a black flight
           of notes: the chip-toothed
blade and oldest anesthetic.

           Escaped
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