Yesterday the past. The movement of peoples,
the borders abstractions, the welcome
promise of a gray statue in a cold harbor,
a still-burning torch after years of dousing.
Yesterday the melting pot, the vision
of unity like a late-night party after guests
have left. Friends remain. Yesterday
the heave-ho of gradient hands on a recess
tug-of-war. Boys’ voices urging pull, pull.
The bell, the desks. The frail teacher’s hands
marking chalkboard dates: 1776, 1865, 1964.
The wisdom of history against the pilloried slave.
Yesterday the voices shouting at white halls
& white houses, the risen leader who spoke
in non-violent words, the water-hose struggle
of a subjugated race. The rural resistance.
Yesterday a flower threaded through a rifle.
Yesterday burned bras and draft notices.
Yesterday the fiery hell of napalm,
the Crooked Liar fleeing into obscurity.
Yesterday the longhairs on university campuses,
flowers, denim, San Francisco songs.
On-stage guitar hymns of peace. Love.
The comfortable language of peace lulled
us to a dreamed slumber. Yesterday the neighbor’s
hand felt calloused, gritty or smooth, slick.
The neighbor’s face in our mirror spoke
language parsed on familiar tongues. Yesterday
hope. Yesterday change. Yesterday the apotheosis
of a new vision. Yesterday the future. Today
children gaze at locked fences. Today the wall.
Today the dreamers ripped from sleep.
Today makes us great. Strong. Today “laws.”
Today “jobs.” Today forget the Middle Eastern
man who wandered in occupied Palestine,
who said “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Today the gunshots in broken neighborhoods.
The murdered commuter reaching for a cell.
Today the brown face, today the black face,
today the white-washing, today the alternative facts.
Today the Tweet. Today the bomb. Today
the day after a nightmare. Sitting aside the bed,
sweating, praying it all isn’t true and knowing
it is. Today the struggle to stand up.
Today the worship of the narrative past.
The stars are still shining. The eclipse blinded
only fools. History will remember and indict.
A child’s hand fits easily into an adult’s.
Jeff Newberry is the author of a novel (A Stairway to the Sea), a poetry collection (Brackish), and a chapbook. He lives in South Georgia with his wife and two children and teaches in the Writing and Communications program at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. Recently, his writing has appeared in The MacGuffin, The Columbia Review, and Snake Nation Review.
Image: Runner in the City, by El Lissitzky, ca. 1926 — Source.