Here, so many who have earned blood spill only paint. So many who have earned fire seek only respect. So many who have earned cutting the throat of the world want only to see their children grow up happy.
I’ve had an interesting month. My voting-as-one-tool-in-what-must-be-a-larger-strategy poem “To Throw a Wrench in the Blood Machine,” went viral, shared by so many people I have so much respect for, from Saul Williams, to Ani DiFranco, to Clint Smith, to Mariame Kaba and beyond. I’d also recommend my followup post, Resources for Getting Involved Beyond Election Day.
Now, we’re back to our regularly-scheduled program, and Button Poetry just released a brand new video for my poem “To the Informants in the Audience Tonight,” which you can find in my book, “Not a Lot of Reasons to Sing, but Enough.”
For those who don’t already know, the book is a sci-fi concept album of a poetry collection, taking place on another world, so there were a lot of opportunities to explore very real-world issues through a different lens. This was one of the last poems I wrote for the book, and it was difficult. This is both a very bitter, angry poem, and a kind of ridiculously hopeful poem. I like the effect of that bitterness and that hope right next to each other, dancing with one another.
Here’s the full text:
TO THE INFORMANTS IN THE AUDIENCE TONIGHT
To the informants in the audience tonight: Welcome to a heaven that hates you. Memorize the joyful faces you will never touch. Compile that list of names to take back to your leering master, placed on the scale across from your soul. Welcome to a heaven you can only surveil.
If these words are harsh, feel free to leave. Better yet, feel free to feel free; as easy as it is to forget, that leash around your neck is only a metaphor. What if you slipped it? What if you stuffed your bloodhound snout with the scent of bonfire, of salty fried mushrooms, of bodies in motion, and collapsed your many shadowed selves back into one?
Because you were one, once, untouched by any handler, reporting back to no one but that rhymebook under your mattress. You had a name, just one, that now feels like a song no one is in the mood to sing. Do you even remember it? Or is all that lives in your mouth now the yelp and whine of obedience, the howl interrupted by a yank of that leash? We would sing with you, if you could remind us of the melody.
Maybe you were bullied. Maybe you were the bully. Most likely both. And you are not the first to witness suffering and survive by rationalizing it. To see a child starve and think her parents should have followed the rules. To see a man’s entire life locked away and think it is a small price to pay for safety. You are not the first to sacrifice to the god of Control, to say they may hate me, but I am not evil. I am only doing my job. Neutral as a noose. As if one had to be evil to do evil.
You are not the first to say I just want to protect and serve my community, and then, out of the many thousands of ways one could truly do that—teacher, builder, healer, artist, farmer—instead, pull chains like intestines from your belly, wrap them around your neighbors’ wrists, around your own neck, around that tattered, empty balloon that used to be an imagination. You know you don’t have to do this, right?
To the informants in the audience tonight: These words are genuine, but they are also delivered without expectation—a courtesy you have not earned but receive all the same. Because here, our scales weigh differently.
Here, so many who have earned blood spill only paint. So many who have earned fire seek only respect. So many who have earned cutting the throat of the world want only to see their children grow up happy. Here, justice is not punishment, or vengeance. It is our children, growing up, happy.
So when you return to your master, when you tell him all that you witnessed tonight, watch his face. Let it tell you what justice is to him. Do you think there will be joy? Do you think there will be singing? Do you think, if you tried to find some kind of heaven in that face, one you could attend without crashing—do you think you’d find it?
Or will your formidable memory return to us, this beautiful evening, this fire: like the last star in a dying universe, the last warmth in the emptiness you’ve earned?
To the informants in the audience tonight: If you ever remember that song, you are welcome to sing. You are welcome to slip free of the chains, to howl, and be lifted by a hundred other howls—the pack you thought to betray, the pack that welcomes you home still.