Issue 10, What the dead know by heart

On not turning away from injustice


A lot of the issues I’ve sent during the lockdown have been about looking forward, towards the sun and trying to infuse hope through poetry. I've been thinking about another function of poetry – to notice, to see, to feel and to turn towards. The past few months have been brutal in how governments across the world have responded, or failed to respond to COVID, and the brutal loss of life that’s incurred. But today, I want to turn towards and sit with the issue of violence towards the lives of Black and POC folks. Even amidst a pandemic, police brutality continues and Amy Coopers continue to see race. Neither thinking twice before endangering and taking another human life. 

So for today’s issue I wanted to share a poem by Donte Collins. Collins is a Black, Queer American poet who was born in Chicago heights and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota where they currently live. Named the inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of Saint Paul, Minnesota, they are the recipient of the 2018 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Spoken Word administered by the Loft Literary Center and winner of the 2016 Most Promising Young Poet Award from the Academy of American Poets.

What the Dead Know by Heart

by Donte Collins

lately, when asked how are you, i 
respond with a name no longer living

Rekia, Jamar, Sandra

i am alive by luck at this point, i wonder
often: if the gun that will unmake me
is yet made, what white birth

will bury me, how many bullets, like a 
flock of blue jays, will come carry my black
to its final bed, which photo will be used

to water down my blood, today i did 
not die and there is no god or law to
thank. the bullet missed my head

and landed in another. today, i passed
a mirror and did not see a body, instead
a suggestion, a debate, a blank

post-it note there looking back. i
haven’t enough room to both rage and 
weep. i go to cry and each tear turns
to steam. I say

I matter and a ghost
white hand appears
over my mouth

“lately, when asked how are you, i/respond with a name no longer living” Breonna, Ahmaud, George. Any given day, there are new names to add to this list. I understand growing up as a minority in a culture where your mere existence is looked at as a danger to those around you. This poem is astonishing in its stark acknowledgement of the fear every Black American lives with. To have to wonder where the bullet with your name is coming from, is the result of generations of trauma, and it takes so much maturity to express it with such restraint.

I urge you to not turn away, I urge you to read Collins’ poem so you are moved and if you can, consider donating to Minnesota Freedom Fund, Black Lives Matter or other organisations where your donations can reach the most marginalised.

To tackle injustice is not easy, to acknowledge our part in it even harder, but it all starts with not looking away. I hope this issue was helpful in processing difficult emotions. I hope Collins’ poem moved you to think more deeply about systems that perpetuate violence and how you can contribute in dismantling them as it did for me.

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