Poem of the Week: When people say, “we have made it through worse before”
The beginning of February marks the beginning of Black History Month—not a sole time to focus on the history and lives of Black Americans but certainly an important time to pause for particular and careful attention. Next week, the blog will bring a selection of titles that can help readers embrace and learn in this vein—to hear voices that need to be heard all the time.
On Book Talk by the Sea, part of the reason I share poetry is because even poetry that addresses some form of sadness so often contains kernels of hope. Isn't the attempt to speak itself an action of hope, in its way? The blog tends toward poems to buoy the spirit or poems that resonate with the beauty of nature. When a dear heart recently shared the following poem by Clint Smith, staff writer for the Altantic (as well as poet, nonfiction author, and podcaster), I was struck by how bleak I felt in reading it, how it didn't seem to ride on the undercurrent of waves of "but it is okay" that I usually seek. And yet I knew that I had to share it here with you, because Smith's poem is one of the most powerful and undeniable that I've read. Because it reminds us that we can do better, but that we can't erase what has been done. We can change tides but not save lives that have already been lost to racism and violence.
As we delve deeper into Black History Month, it is a time to recognize what has, can, and must be changed but also a time to look back on history and know that while it is ever-flowing, certain acts are complete and irreparable. They must be learned from, they must be remembered, they must be given voice. And the voices, right now, should be of those who know the experiences best, so I hand things off, now, to Clint Smith:
When people say, “we have made it through worse before”
all I hear is the wind slapping against the gravestones of those who did not make it, those who did not survive to see the confetti fall from the sky, those who did not live to watch the parade roll down the street. I have grown accustomed to a lifetime of aphorisms meant to assuage my fears, pithy sayings meant to convey that everything ends up fine in the end. There is no solace in rearranging language to make a different word tell the same lie. Sometimes the moral arc of the universe does not bend in a direction that will comfort us. Sometimes it bends in ways we don’t expect & there are people who fall off in the process. Please, dear reader, do not say I am hopeless, I believe there is a better future to fight for, I simply accept the possibility that I may not live to see it. I have grown weary of telling myself lies that I might one day begin to believe. We are not all left standing after the war has ended. Some of us have become ghosts by the time the dust has settled.
- Clint Smith