Share Article

every stanza is a knuckle / a poem strikes back

on the occasion of Nelson Mandela's visit to Oakland, California, 1990

To this sea of fists, add mine,
brown, young, virginal as fists go,
having never delivered a punch
clenched tight

To these voices, add mine,
but no song will be enough
unless its rhythm beats tough,
steady as fists against steel
so, raise the chorus
note by note, to a revered punch
even their deaf ears must feel

We learned early:
hands outstretched soon turn to fists
bitten fingernails digging into the palms

This poem is the back of a hand
(you think you know me like it)
ready to be kissed
but behind it are 10 typing fingers
ready to spread across your red necks,
to pummel your full stomachs

You told me violence was not the answer
I never said I would hold back under attack
or that there was another outlet For this rage
I do not say these words to make you afraid
but because I hurt, they are true,
and violence was the question you asked

the classic white flight

makes it sound like
a flock of graceful doves
soaring up & away like a Motown melody,
a blue sky over a clear blue river

but really
the river's dead liver grey
& a huge black fist labelled Joe Louis
hangs down by Hart Plaza
& you see

this strange phenomenon
is more like the small white rats
my father showed us at the college pharmacy labs,
red-eyed with fear,
scurrying every which direction

poisoned in individual
and collective ways

[for Detroit, named the most racially segregated
metropolitan area in the United States]

right (as in "yeah, right!")

Yes, we have hung our cotton ropes from brahmin oaks
out on the spacious green lawns of the projects.

Sipping lemonade, we observe our gardeners
step 'n' hoe, fetch 'n' mow.

Everything smells fresh like laundry,
wildflowers, or white women's armpits.

No bullets roar
in our children's ears.

Ah, we are swinging from the trees
like monkeys. Quota queens of the jungle.

And every day these beds of rope wrap us tighter, tighter,
luxurious as compassion.

[for California Governor Pete Wilson, who proclaimed
to great applause at his inauguration in January 1995,
"Welfare should be a safety net, not a hammock"]

Frieze and handprint design by Sherazad Jamal.
Redux Handprint
Minal Hajratwala
Mina Hajratwala writes and performs poetry in San Jose, California, where she is a newspaper journalist. Her poems appear in various literary journals and in anthologies.
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
Britannia Art Gallery
Britannia Art Gallery
Bookhug Press
Bookhug Press
Plantation Memories
Plantation Memories
Alternator Centre