To the Killers of Us
What did you do to us?
Did you drink our skin,
make tea from the powdered layers?
Did you weave our coffins
with hair from our own heads,
was this you?
And what of the whorls
that used to grace our fingers?
What happened to the trace of us?
Are we the ones who scream at your deathbed?
Were we the ones who said we forgive you,
who sometimes beat and call our women bitches,
tell them to fuck off and get the fuck out, who remove
our tongues to kiss men in dented corners, wake
with your name stuck in our teeth or branded on our cheek,
who tell stories of bright rooms and closed familiar hands when
we are too young or open sidewalks when we are old enough
to watch you choke us again and again while we yell,
or say nothing,
was this us?
Who were we then?
What are we becoming?
Some days we wonder what is left for us to love.
Some days we wonder what’s left of us.
You who have taken almost everything,
but this white butterfly holding onto purple
for dear life, or the sweat that comes from
bucking bales, or seeding sweet corn we planted
with hands we trace from singing
the million ways Black and Brown hearts die
and live, still we live
stories no one believes or wants to hear,
like the love that rinses our tilted tear gassed faces
into a milky caul,
or the small passing of sage our nephew bound,
juniper, yellow and red roses,
into our open hands,
true true medicine, ours to burn
and bathe in smoke,
stoke each heart and limb
for that next time fire.
You have not taken any of these things,
not the music or the beat or the drum we hollowed
from cottonwood, cut on our land, strung with animals
we soaked and dried our own selves, these skins,
the remains of our staggered breath,
we, the survivor of many,
who will love and live still,
we know what you’ve done,
we’re telling who you are.
by Rae Paris (many thanks to the friend who gifted me the phrase “survivor of many”)