In the long hours and longer days after the events of July 7, 2016 here in Dallas, Texas, the narrative I observed emerging was not so much “Why Dallas?” but “How will Dallas deal with yet another blow to its reputation?” In other words, not “How can we work together to prevent this from ever happening again?” but (to quote Dallas native David Berman) “Oh Dallas, you shine with an evil light, and there you go again.” All of which only agitated the ornery Texan in me, and prompted the following, rather impulsive plea for another kind of image-making and and a different approach to storytelling.
<< OPEN CALL for Dallas writers and artists who work in the medium of language. Please consider contributing to a portfolio of poetic responses to the last 48 hours in the life of our city. Said portfolio will be made publicly available via Entropy. Special consideration will be giving to diverse voices and perspectives. Text, image, audio, video; all forms, modes and registers welcome, ditto works of any length. Rage, confusion, sorrow, resolve, feelings that any artistic response is still a matter of ‘too soon’: whatever you have to say, say it. Please also feel free to share this call far and wide within you own area communities. Thanks in advancing for supporting alternatives to popular representations of Dallas and Dallasites. >>
This portfolio includes every piece of writing I received during the 2 weeks in which submissions were open. This portfolio is therefore neither comprehensive nor exhaustive in its documentation of the great variety of poetry, not all of it strictly textual, being composed and shared with audiences in what is, after all, the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States (for the record: NY; LA; Chicago; DFW). In fact, this collection is more snapshot than portfolio—but it would be insincere to suggest that this was not at least partially by design.
Nevertheless, having read all of the writing gathered here numerous times, what impresses is the generosity, vulnerability and appropriately messy probity of my immediate artistic community—its members’ willingness to allow themselves to be tormented by those questions for which there are no answers other than the notion that these are questions with which we are obligated to engage. What does it mean for poets to respond to current events, and under what constraints do poets operate in such circumstances? Is experimentation really liberating? Is there anything new that can be said about the institutional racism and systemic violence to which American life makes us witness? What does collective grief look and feel like? Is the lyric tradition compatible with radical plurality? What dialogue feels possible when the only common vocabulary we seem to share in this nation is that gunfire we so frequently exchange? What resistance can poetry offer the overwhelming force of repeating history? In times of crisis, what are poets to do when poetry is riven by its own crises, crises themselves complicit in that larger crisis? Do we ever really hear how we sound when we assume that we are saying precisely what we mean, or is our own assertiveness all that we ever truly hear?
From the outside, Dallas, Texas may not be an easy city to admire, much less love. It is a city that will probably always be captive to preconceptions forged by what is most gaudy, bloody, culturally conservative and football-centric about it. But, as this portfolio demonstrates, Dallas is also a city of actual citizens, people who work within and along boundaries that even before July 7th bore many very visible scars: of environmental devastation, of Jim Crow, of assassination, of widening income disparity, of forced migration, of fundamentalist theology, of ideological petulance, of magical exceptionalist thinking, of hate. Perhaps only now (and better now than never), Dallas’ cultural class is doing the best it can to reveal the truth of this city’s relationship to the private as well as the public imagination. And, in so doing, Dallas’ artists are necessarily testing the capacity of the city’s imaginative identity to remain open and fluid even as it preserves multiple spaces in which difference and dignity are not mutually exclusive, and in which healing is synonymous with both consolation and justice. In that regard, Dallas is more than a city of desperate contradictions. Dallas is a city of survivors: a city of earned rather than awarded possibilities: a city that is anything but a utopia yet a city in which poets know they have a voice, and a place.
— Joe Milazzo / Dallas, TX / July 28, 2016
City of ____________: Dispatches from 16 Dallas Poets
Christie Bingham / Dan Collins / Mark Crotty / Sean Enfield / Rosealynne Gbelawoe / Chris George / Fatima-Ayan Malika Hirsi / Amanda Huynh / Paul Koniecki / Paul Koniecki & Joe Milazzo / Leo Martin / Robin Myrick / Marcos Moses O’Sirin / Carlos Salas / Opalina Salas / Leah Tieger / Contributors’ Notes
For Bodies in Streets (Marching or Shot)
I want to rename
every street for dead men.
Many roads are named that way.
I want them changed
for nameless bodies
lost to roadmaps
the named ones made.
Every name is a place
I want drawn into map
into bruise on the flesh of a city.
Take every road.
Give it no throughway
no way to travel
from chamber to wound.
— Leah Tieger
[Table of Contents]
When you see god
Don’t rehearse it
War let loose
From behind lines
Little flashes and strobes
Of receive and transmit
Sent across media
For right set of eyes
Authorized to punish
Eyes wide and crazed
Onto the digital grey horizon
Eyes across oceans
Fear terror in their heart
Gasp gives way to sinister smile
All while buzzing angels
At clear conscience
With the ease of a button
While there’s war
War on Detroit
War on the radio
War on TV
War in legislation
War in oil
War in the mirror
War at work
War in the classroom
War in hearts
Tied to chest
Tear themselves apart
Unmanned carrier landings
War in the words of God
Manipulated and twisted
With guns and money
No piecemeal change
Accept only revolution
Children at the border
Send them young
To die for precious profits
Soon you’ll feel
Return on investment
Propaganda in sync
Plays across all media
Because it’s all about money
About value menu
One Click away
America’s addiction to slavery
Reflected on global scale
Rate of consumption
Die off in millions
Never see “golden years”
From “can’t see to can’t see”
Both in life and in death
This is literal
And not fantasy
This is nightmare
And not dream
Raunchy one liners
To art form
— Carlos Salas
[Table of Contents]
everything in Texas
is shaped like Texas
especially a gun
sparing its smoke
after it’s emptied everything
— Rosealynne Gbelawoe
[Table of Contents]
cells in cells
“downtown Dallas at night – she is a great big empty beautiful city of the dead – I drive in sometimes just to see the lights”
how can a thing that doesn’t exist
have a face
when the integrity of ramparts is called in
far-side of the alley
running in the street
stamen opening like brain-
fine slow green stem
a dandelion cotillion
puff seeds flying out
to find a fallow crux
everything looks frosted
ticker-tape on ice
carat weight of
pain don’t ask what
can do for you
blood is only red when
your body is open
nebulous membrane of reality
dot dot dash
i have read all the good
holy books on
when the bridges are falling
even the word ablation
tears a hole
wait until they ask for mercy
you are exactly what god looks like
your face is the face of god
shallow gong in a puddle of blood
the living point to an
failure of words
on my back down
elm before ellum
no pillow in the street
— Paul Koniecki
[Table of Contents]
Anthem of Ruin
Name the bulk of our bones that grow
through the length of our grief:
splintered femurs of our sons & the bullet
pierced clavicles of our daughters.
Stacked end on end, like a double helix,
the bones reach to the moon.
Deep in their marrow,
the hate of our fathers glistens like metal.
Who will say, I won’t belong. In this body,
an ulna without a radius is not an arm,
a voice above the choir never legible.
— Christie Bingham
[Table of Contents]
breaking from dallas:
last night, taking the red line to the theatre, i get into a conversation about bikes w/ a guy wearing a yankees cap. i try not to judge him for being a yankees fan. i learn, though, he’s from nyc, and, as a hometown houston astros fan: respect.
the transfer from the green line to the red is at pearl/arts district, then goes right through the heart of downtown. almost exactly 24 hours later, the city is still decorated w/ yellow ribbon, adorned w/ red and blue lights, and thick w/ anxiety.
everyone is quiet. the train is quiet.
she circles around to union station. the CLAKS return before the CLIKKETIES. then, it’s clikkety clak clikkety clak clikkety clak.
[i love the train, it’s one of the great unifiers in life. the last one, of course, is the GREAT UNIFIER. but public transit, the people mover, is one of the few we experience, then get to talk about it after. this probably seems trivial to someone from new york, or nearly everywhere else in the world, but public transit is not a big thing here in tx. we would ride horses to work, if they had air conditioning…]
a black woman gets off at union station w/ the grace of a velvet crane dancing across flames licking at her toes. the way only a black woman can. (it’s ok w/ me if you call me out for being racist for that line. i’ll take that one.) we make eye contact. we have the same expression. i don’t know where she gets the strength. grace eludes me. ducks around the corner when it sees me coming, but drapes around her like a velvet shawl.
the train is full downtown and, as a great unifier, it’s mixed race this evening. everyone tries to hold on to their thoughts at union station. the red line. the blue line. the t.r.e. amtrak. the electric streetcar. they’re all here. grumbling. moaning. screeching. chiming. pshhh-ing.
as soon as this confluence of steel comes together, it moves on. it always moves on. leaving downtown now and the red line settles in to her long haul to south oak cliff.
the hussle and bussle gone now.
2 old schoolers talking bikes. a skinny white boy from the bayou and an african american from the world’s capital. the new schwinns aren’t any good any more. they don’t make ‘em like they used to. i concede to his point, as our conversation grows from bikes to what’s on everyone’s mind. what happened ‘that night’ was a long time coming. in the great scheme of things. in the mass arc of violence and oppression. as ‘fucked up as shit was last night,’ his words, ‘it was inevitable,’ my words. we agree. violence begets violence. we’re both worried about what’s next. we both want to turn things around.
the red line has a long night ahead of her, before she can do that.
my stop comes up, we shake hands, call each other brother. ‘be careful,’ i say. ‘careful, be careful,’ he says.
— Marcos Moses O’Sirin
[Table of Contents]
Real & Imagined Emails
— Fatima-Ayan Malika Hirsi
[Table of Contents]
The Trinity River Writes a Letter – Spontaneously – in Mourning
Death and violence visit as spectacle
as the Trinity River catches a bus, boards the DART,
checks its Facebook
despite the news Dallas is not a city of reductions
the Trinity River only listens to free-jazz in the aftermath
as a form of radical politics
at West End station a homeless man tries
to sell CDs to a group of teenagers
who are bewildered, even stunned
at his propositions
looking through him towards something else
the city’s breath is our breath
tucked into our lungs as if
under a pillow or beneath a park bench
the Trinity River reads that more black people
were killed by police in 2015
than were lynched in 1892
and that 42 police officers were shot and killed
that same year
there are echoes of loss in the great neighborhoods
to the East where a man is mugged in Lochwood
and a body is found on White Rock Trail
it will be August soon and the Trinity River still prays for rain
still rolls its tongue up and down its red clay banks
still tries to talk to its children about the news
with the language provided in an email
from its Temple/Church/Mosque
the Trinity River makes the rounds on cable news
Morning Joe, CNN, Fox and Friends
and when addressed, it doesn’t know what to say
its words stuck somewhere between
an alley and a chipped tooth
its feelings an in-between
its sadness irrelevant and wandering –
it starts a letter
to whom it may concern,
we’re tired of loss…
but it’s never finished or sent.
— Chris George
[Table of Contents]
The Day After July 7, 2016
I watch my little sister walk
down the Texas Rangers’ field
with one hundred fifty Air Force recruits.
The flags watch her
at half-mast as she passes
third base. American faces, in diversity,
move across the big screen: young women
and men— there are young Black men
who walk beside her. Black arms
lift to an empty sky, the wind carries
their names, the stadium echoes
their oath to support and defend
the Constitution—however blood stained,
and soaking the streets
with colored bodies—
of a United States shattered
like CD shards on pavement,
and the blood still rises in the heat
from the night before.
From the last three days
where the only stars falling
were the ones piercing into the flesh
of those still hanging on to their pain
filled breath. A breath trying
to wrap around tomorrow. I press my ear
against tomorrow’s chest: Who will defend them
when they return home?
— Amanda Huynh
[Table of Contents]
I don’t know how to feel about this
Seems to be my mantra these days
I put on some Reverend Green
Look out the window and think and
My whirled up thinkings follow me
To the king spa all skin of tawny
All shapes and shades under the dim light scrubbing
Away our sadness and week
Of unreleased grime
How can you mend a broken heart?
Released under hot veil of bubbles
Sweat out on concrete stools
With tied bunches of herbs
Sloughed off and dripping
In here, no one can see you cry
I don’t know how to feel about this
The small framed Korean ladies
Dainty but strong
Straddle the Western thighs
Of the Americas scrubbing with both hands
To peel away the layers of regret
Shearing us down to a more manageable
Morsel of grief
Buttered skin and then we rinse
Take me to the river
And wash me down
Won’t you cleanse my soul
Put my feet on the ground
And all the other countries say
Look at what those crazy cowboys have done now
Shoot ‘em up style
With their guns and their bombs and their drones
Look at what they have sown
It’s all still the wild wild west
Outlaws insatiable for blood
Bang bang, shoot ‘em up and gone
Oh those crazy Americans
I’m just trying to escape into my bowl of Ramyun
I’m just trying to sleep in the dark blanket of Al Green
Mercy Mercy Me
I don’t know how to feel about any of this anymore.
— Opalina Salas
[Table of Contents]
Flyover Camping in Troll City
for homeless bulldozer
As you life
does not require
But the chief is taking
for dog-catcher counselors
GDP of arts
Science in our (de)livery
When all we
is to order
take out with Trixie
Racer as she digests
is a mondegreen.
with your self-esteem.
The most phallic
chiminea ever gets choked up
like a simile of your disaffection
cracking unclaimed on the curb.
We won’t be
the open call made us
bury our lone prairie
trumps Gadsden’s but
solicits from Craigslist?
Carriages of smoke
ride civvies while instars
thump the pulpit—
“These one way streets must
come down like water, like lanyards
of blossoms & pheromones
yellow as wolves. Pathé
preserve us!” When, then,
what we prayed we
town hall-ed into being.
signs and fire signs
in the chewed
of the cosmic
“the ending of the
is never ending”
Come over here
like potables for alms
homeless temporary five
Make our minute every
update, configure our hard
hats with the happiest
emojis that download free
with the app. Who builds
buildings, really? Not
architects; not those
penitentiary schmucks. Pedestrians
evict it plain. Let’s sing road
songs and roadie for Care
Bears Mad Maxing on pan-
handled time. The axles drop
the Clark Kent act and
brute their koosh: no more
cabana boys in the wheel wells.
for every soul
troubled by enough
by services or offers
by shogun cargo
by giajin kaiju
by some great blanked
whale’s fugitive hyphen
by a fulcrum
by amoebic fueling
by the OSHA overseeing
Tyveked regrets &
Either way beautiful is late
You play Cantinflas in a bio pic
about yourself by Peckinpah
The layers of veneer, in peeling,
shimmer and skiff
We Hunter S Thompson
vast sections of horizon
in the back like
a hookah or a verb
Time considers punctuation
a means to an end
Pay-stubs are adept
at removing flesh
Adroit, as a word,
makes me Phillipe Petit
walking above New York
When you say “I am the wire”
You become the wind
All this on lunch break
We never stop building
movements outside circuits
circuits outside altitude
altitudes outside zip
codes zip codes beyond
mascots mascots beyond
windshield wipers outside
Open call for telling us
how you watch
by the Magic Eye side
of “from”‘s fence
From the last stand
of never endings
From a casting
nil by mouth
From a scoreboard’s
ticking red and low down
Smell the mimeographed
paper’s waxy purple
printed onion skin
Shake the magic
eight ball of their
most furious slumber
Arouse the one
percent and evict
their bully notices
Cartouche the privileged
Arrest the prisons
Raze the day and the night
They ever came
Remake them into a wish
they too were born
rough grubby handed
fine hard black
trustworthy bulldozer steering
wheels pointing now to turn
home under revving for an end
to the Maitland-Deetz divide
unfriending the Bar
Keeper’s Friend in favor
of avant-garde tourism
dear slate madams not
all populists are pyromaniacs
even if most camels aren’t christened
and Johnny Five lives on as a bomb
open call for cute detonations
the trickle-down hypocrisy
that sinks to the bottom of the morning
the servants will show you back to
the infinity pools where surgeons
flaunt hemophiliac teeth
in granite squares and
from under the sheriff’s
seat we recall razing
and occupy the garra rufa
blackens in the venting
of impossible literacies
staining assumption’s thumb
DM the cat-herders’ alarm
the horsemen’s valet tickets
The Narcissists bloviation,
“make her a sideways gouger”
“make her a heretical Exodus bush”,
marching lock-step as Lincoln
Logs to a tune they are
unaware was penned by
Federico Garcia Lorca
for a play titled
The Bullfighter’s Lament.
Lost in the dust
we swear this night will have
no white star gush.
Straight spear to
the pomegranate chest
is not a sentence.
Riskier still, pulling out
their crocodile jerky hearts
by the root and crying,
“is Liriope to blame?”
It takes social security recipients
tears for a spell of resurrection.
Insurrection tastes like salt.
Mutiny like fire.
We’re your blotched resume.
We’re your mutineer.
We’re the wastrel
in your porridge bowl.
We’re your agitator
your circuminoid brain
your librarian of swarms
We’re the backhoe
who solves mysteries
in the first half-hour
but strings all the culprits
along until that 15 seconds
of instant after-dinner Viennese
We’re the dowager author
whose nose is a switchblade
We’re your own advice whose
double-edge you can’t take and
We’re here to tell you
we’re halfway to being there.
If the American Billionaire Class
Taj Mahal’s the planet
where will we set
the bassinets, the fields
of blue corn, and
the fields of harvest wheat,
club back the androids
of the singularity, let slip
the yoke and rave?
Double-edged or not,
is your scrimshaw
at the ready?
the trees don’t bleed
blue but the skyscrapers
at tables handcrafted
from replica cable spools
and rants and flowers
all weekend long
the beer clones
pours cool and rockabilly
trash without the whiteness
let the cedar fever
announce it is risen
solar as misogyny
let bloating bloat
on the charm schooling
that insists we can
be prohibited from vice
after vice other than
our freedom to condemn
Open call for censored
mornings shade towards
evenings of reverse osmosis.
Open call for constellations
to storm the set and bawl.
our Starship Enterprise,
our Bonnie Tatooine,
no time for Towers
of Babel – whisper alacrity
as we fend off and we feed.
— Joe Milazzo & Paul Koniecki
[Table of Contents]
Shocked Out Of Silence
As an educator, I’ve long held schools should teach students how to think, not what to think. Such a high wire can prove tough on which to balance, especially with older students when exploring meaty topics. Some of my proudest teaching moments came when, after particularly heavy discussions, students said they couldn’t figure out my exact beliefs about the issue at hand. Having incredible power to influence students, teachers must tread carefully. Quite often, that necessitates adopting as objective stance as one can. I feel this even more strongly as a head of school. It can be hard, both professionally and personally. You can grow frustrated with feeling that on certain subjects you must restrain, even silence yourself.
The shootings in Dallas on July 7, 2016, have me reflecting on this stance. Dallas has been my home since 1990. Any time something extreme happens in your backyard rather than elsewhere, it ignites an ember previously only smoldering. St. John’s Episcopal School has a special relationship with some Dallas officers who work security for us when off-duty, as do a few employees in their personal lives. Furthermore, if my family had not been out of town, my daughter likely would have attended the peace march. I probably would have gone with her; my wife and son may have come. Our dinner conversations often become animated about political and social issues. We’ve all agonized over events of the past several years. My wife worries about what it means that for this generation of teens 9/11 is a first memory, the beginning of a grotesque panoply of violence around the world.
It’s not just Dallas. In this country it’s Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, Charleston, Orlando, Baltimore, Ferguson, Staten Island, San Diego, Newtown, assorted schools and universities. Abroad it’s Paris, London, Baghdad, Jakarta, Turkey, Jerusalem, Somalia, Tehran, Norway. As those are just the ones popping into my mind, the list is thus sadly incomplete. The cruel irony is while statistically we live in one of the safest eras ever, we feel quite the opposite. Perhaps our anxiety stems from the random yet not-so-random nature of the violence. The terrorists—and aren’t all these acts of mayhem acts of terror?—seem to strike anywhere at any time, yet with very specific intent. No group seems immune from someone’s bile. Our fear and loathing spike off the charts. Life seems to have reached some sort of tragic singularity, the real world and the worst of the Internet having merged. In such a climate, I derive a weird tinge of gratitude from the fact that I still can be shocked.
We also shouldn’t be totally surprised by this happening in Dallas. Yes, we have progressed greatly over the past few decades. The marchers portrayed a diverse mosaic, protestors and police swapped flowers while taking selfies, and we saw a beautiful lovefest at Potter’s House. But we suffer from the same human vices as most areas. We remain a city deeply divided, and not just by the Trinity River. De facto segregation organizes our neighborhoods and public schools and churches and civic organizations. Dallas is called one of America’s gay-friendliest cities, yet homophobia is prevalent. And Dallas is one of the more liberal areas of Texas, where state officials see keeping transgender people in the “right” bathrooms as a top priority. Right now in Dallas—everywhere, I think—the hope is that the love found within the pain endures. Only then will come deeper, more systemic healing—from not just recent events, but also institutionalized wrongs.
Education can provide a balm. For that, we have to rethink its purpose and embrace its possibilities. School can’t be just about measurable outcomes, test scores, securing employment, and international competitiveness. Education needs soul. An education that matters helps young people gradually discern how to lead a life full of meaning and purpose. That’s intensely personal. For many young people today, that means battling injustice. For example, they wisely reject the notion we should—or ever could—be color blind regarding race. Instead, they desire to see empathetically how all our individual differences affect the way we experience the world…and the myriad ways each of us can enrich the world. I’m proud St. John’s Episcopal School strives to be “an inclusive community where the dignity of every human being is respected.”
I still believe schools must walk a fine line. In reality all schools teach two general curricula. One is the explicit curriculum: the subjects, the defined program. The other is the implicit curriculum: the lessons a student discerns through watching adults and the cultural practices. While both matter, the latter has vaster implications. Thus, while we should not overtly proselytize or politicize, we can insist on some basic and universal human values. Ideally, a school encourages us to fly with our higher angels.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers to our massive challenges. My current pain and confusion, combined with ongoing experience, erase any such quixotic fancy. After all, traces of festering rot have plagued humans forever. Still, I believe we can contain their spread. To draw strength these days, I find myself often recalling a story from earlier in my career, when I worked at another school. An administrator and I were dealing with a painful racial incident. As we sat in his office, he began to weep and stammered, “I’m trying so hard to deal with this as the head of the upper school and not as a black man.” Suddenly I had a tiny understanding of race in a way I never had before. As my own tears formed, I said, “You’re the head of upper school and you’re a black man. Don’t try to separate those two things. In fact, I think it’s going to be extra powerful for these kids to see how this incident has affected you in both ways.” He needed that permission not to silence part of himself. Once he had it, he helped us all move forward.
Now I’m giving myself the same permission, even though I’m not sure exactly what it means as a head of school. I suspect it will be much like it was when I worked with students. I won’t preach or make sweeping declarations of truth. But I will ask many very pointed questions. I won’t be as silent. Then maybe together we can figure all this out.
— Mark Crotty
[Table of Contents]
From the Sidelines
You are present at tonight’s protest if not physically then at least spiritually.
Indeed, you could have been there, would have been there, were it not for a mid-day nap, induced both by the Texas sun and by 5 hrs spent telling smaller humans to sit down and be quiet or, as it’s more commonly referred, teaching.
Your first thought, waking up with a familiar sunlight upon you, I’m late. You’ve napped a day away, a day and a half away so it seems, and now, you’ll have to procure a sub for the morning class. Then, some of the grogginess dissipates and gives way to your second thought, I’m late. But not for school. You had told some friends that, after work, you’d meet them for the solidarity demonstration in Downtown Dallas that evening. A demonstration for the unjust murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and of course, there are other black bodies implicitly referenced by the demonstration. Your third thought, It’s too late.
And so you find yourself scrolling with them, in solidarity with the solidarity movement. Solidarity because to call it voyeurism feels wrong and right simultaneously. Truthfully, it does do your heart good to see these black bodies mobilized. Even if you aren’t among them. Even if you feel, in your half-blackness, like you’ve never been.
In every picture you scroll past, Black Lives Matter is written on (a) poster board(s) somewhere in the background or foreground. The photographs’ subjects are smiling that solemn smile of a trauma patient post-catharsis. There are pictures of your peers chanting, marching, and, as will be widely dispersed in the days to come, hugging the police officers providing security. Invariably, your pop-culture addled mind recalls Beyoncé at the Super Bowl just a few months prior, decked out in the uniform of black militancy, commanding black women to get in formation. The sight excited you then. The revolution will, indeed, be televised, you thought. Though, now, when you marry the performance to tonight’s activism and to the general proliferation of hashtag activism (and there are about as many hashtags on the physical poster boards themselves as there are on the posts sharing the images), you can’t say for certain what revolution looks like. What it demands of its participants, its recipients, its onlookers, and all shades of grey in between.
A friend of yours posts,
July 7th at 7:26 PM – we out here fam! #blacklivesmatter
You are among 25 likes. The revolution, it seems, will be live-tweeted.
You can’t say for certain when you heard the first gun shot. You’ve got somebody’s live stream playing on a background tab. The chanting and walking and wind-blowing and birds chirping all blur into a white noise of peaceful protest that you find oddly soothing, like those tranquil wave CDs your grandfather played to distract himself to sleep. To you, however, those CDs always sounded more static than seaside. It’s only when you return to the stream that you notice how quickly events can turn sour. You’re watching Wizard of Oz in reverse, it seems. What was once colorful—in all connotations of the word—is now lamentably and frighteningly black and white.
Your feed is rampant with confusion. anxiety. speculation. Every now and then, someone will update the death toll.
A relative, on the white side, posts,
July 7th 10:54 PM – sniper is targeting officers. when will this divisiveness end? #bluelivesmatter
You do not like this post, and so it is impossible to count how many you are among. The uncounted users who choose to keep scrolling rather than interact.
Meanwhile, others, some you had told you would join, are updating with where they’ve sought safety while those of us on the sidelines post things like…
If you’re in dallas, B safe.
Active shooter. Please be safe tonite, dallasites.
More than anything, safety is the refrain of the night.
You are not there, but you won’t sleep that night. You need to know. You just don’t know what it is you need to know. Still, you scroll, no longer in solidarity but with a fear you feel is unearned. You post too. Echoing the call of safety. Offering an opinion, void of clarity and marked mostly by a kind of purging. You don’t post it, but throughout the night, you wonder, might this be the face of revolution? might this be what Baldwin meant when he warns of the Fire Next Time?
By the time your alarm goes off and you begin preparing for the school day, your eyes are colored a reddish tint that suggests crying just as easily as it suggests sleeplessness. The deaths have plateaued at 5, that crooked snake of a prime number, and as you’ll learn listening to Morning Edition, that number does not include the gunman who, in the early morning while you scrolled and scrolled, died via a detonation set off by a robot you can’t help but envision as Johhny 5. Oh brave new world.
At school, your principal appears relieved to see you. She asks if you were there, mentions that she felt compelled to check-in on you last night, but doesn’t say why she didn’t.
To her inquiry, you initially, and earnestly, think to answer, yes, but instead, say that no, you weren’t there. Which, though it feels otherwise, is a truth, a truth absent of several variables you want to add but don’t.
What’s happening to our world? she asks. A common refrain in turbulent times, no doubt.
In the other room there’s a coloring book depicting the events of the Civil War, complete with a page that allows the child, any child, to color a slave auction which, thank a merciful god, is left uncolored in your school’s edition. It has always struck you a curious, misguided attempt to narrate slavery into a child’s consciousness, but you’ve never had the gumption to ask any of the other faculty if it has ever been put to use. Of course, you have always wondered if there is any feasible way to narrate such a rift into a child’s consciousness, and now that you are an instructor the question weighs even heavier on your mind. In your half-blackness, that rift has, and always will be, your identity, forever instructing your reading of history as sustained revolution with the occasional lull. What’s happening to our world? Last night, a lull broke, violent and terrifying and electric.
But you’ve been silent too long. Her question is rhetorical, and but while she isn’t searching for an answer, she is searching for sound, for some sort of reply.
Who knows? you respond and head to class. Not having slept, you are walking through a dream, the hallways are rendering before you, slowly and inefficiently, as if you had wandered into a dystopian video game from the nineties. Your first student, who you tutor one-on-one in the mornings, asks if you heard about the violence, and your impulse is to ask, which? Initially, though, you remain silent. Here’s a chance, you think. Ground-level revolution, a chance to get into formation, an opportunity, but instead, you say, yes, I heard all about it. Stumbling over just about every syllable, you transition into today’s lesson on gerund phrases.
On your wall is a quote you’ve hung from Malala Yousafzai which reads, One Child, One Teacher, One Book, One Pen, Can Change the World, but that change seems so unlikely and so beyond those bleacher kids, scrolling on the sidelines.
— Sean Enfield
[Table of Contents]
Have you ever killed someone?
Well no, like, when you shave its different right?
Yea, he’s black… but he’s not, you know, black black.
Sir, are you an American citizen?
Nigga what the fuck are you wearing? Man, look at his shoes. What are those?
Sir. Please wait while I get my flashlight, I need a closer look at your passenger seat.
* * *
Going in, I came to the realization a very long time ago that no matter what I say, how hard I work, that I’m fucked. Not for lack of trying not to be fucked. Rather, I’m fucked for trying, and need to try harder because I’m apparently not trying hard enough.
Not trying hard enough to be black.
Not trying hard enough to be somebody.
Not trying hard enough to assimilate.
While inside, I came to the realization a very long time ago that no matter what I want to say, how hard I think I work, that I’m fucked. Not for a lack of trying to be fucked. Instead, I’m fucked for not trying, and need to slow my roll because I’m apparently trying too hard.
Trying too hard to be black.
Trying too hard to be someone I’m not.
Trying too hard to assimilate into a group I’ll never be a part of.
* * *
I’ve always told people you have to go into a tunnel before you can see the light at the end of it. Myself, I take my own flashlight. Anytime someone comes down this tunnel, I light them up. Hope. It’s something you give others. You don’t roll out of bed with it, that’s a fucking fact. It’s something, someone, someplace you have to take with you. I’ve spent my brief existence on this motherfucker explaining to myself and others why I’m here. I’m simply someone you meet on your journey through life. I serve no singular purpose other than as an exit sign, crosswalk, whatever symbolic bullshit you need to handle your shit. I’m here to give you some perspective. Why. This is a worthless question that has no intelligible answer. Listen to your heart. It knows.
In 1963 King’s house burned. In 1992 LA burned. In 2014 Ferguson burned. Today we are lost. We’re not out of this tunnel yet folks.
Bring a flashlight.
— Leo Martin
[Table of Contents]
— Dan Collins
[Table of Contents]
An angry man who felt threatened
An angry man who felt threatened by law enforcement
An angry man who felt bullied, bullied back
He drove in from the small city where he lived east of Dallas
He drove in to downtown
He meticulously planned it
He had long guns, pistols, tubs full of ammunition, body armor, pipe bombs packed with nails and shrapnel
He waited till things were calming down
He moved into position
He struck, swift and violent
He struck in an ambush
He targeted police officers
His attack started a gun battle and chaos in the streets
His attack was designed for maximum fear and casualties
He fled as police tried to take him out
He fled and was chased to a new location
He was surrounded and trapped there
He was not contrite during negotiations
He just kept shooting
He just kept threatening
He said he had still more bombs hidden
He said he was going to blow everyone up
Instead of that, he died
Not in a cinematic way
Not as a martyr for a cause
But in a confined space
His own empty cage
At the end of a standoff
Surrounded by those he saw as tormentors
Ended by those he attempted to end
He wasn’t all bad, his family said
He had talked about shooting up some churches and schools before
And had choked his mother that one time after she said he was going to hell
And had threatened the judge in his child custody case
And had threatened to kill his whole family
And had said the world would be better off without cops
But he was a giver, they said
He raised money for tsunami victims, and gave a car to a young couple in need
He just felt bitter about the injustice he experienced
He just felt misunderstood
He just felt the law was against him
He was just mentally unstable
The system failed him by declaring him sane, his mother said
The system failed him to the point of breaking him, his father said
You can’t judge a life by one incident, his father said
All he did was to plan and execute a military-style murder mission in downtown Dallas
All he did was to terrorize a neighborhood and everyone who happened to be in it
All he did was to make bombs and use some of them to try and kill people
All he did was to try and eliminate every police officer he could see or could not see
All he wanted was to end anyone who tried to stop him
All he wanted was to assault the Dallas Police Department Headquarters in an armored vehicle with gun turrets, and put 160 bullets in there
In June 2015
James Boulware’s name is not one you remember
He was not deemed a domestic terrorist
There was no grassroots movement blamed for his actions
No ex-congressmen threatened the President of the United States in a spineless tweet afterwards
His was not designated the ethnicity or the face of anti-police violence
His name and his crime are no longer discussed by reporters, or pundits, or senators
His name and his crime are not co-opted by fading political figures and minor celebrities desperate to grab the spotlight again
His name and his crime did not come to symbolize a growing threat that could potentially change our American way of life
He and his crime are conveniently forgotten
Because no one was killed by James Boulware
Because no one died at Dallas Police Headquarters that night despite those 160 bullets
You may claim that it doesn’t count, then
You may label it the act of a delusional fool
You may be tempted to dismiss it as an isolated incident
If you think that a single crime doesn’t fit a pattern
If you think that a white lone gunman is only an anomaly
If you think that no other lone gunman is really a lone gunman
If you think a coward who shoots at police through the gun turrets in his van is not the same as one who shoots at police face-to-face or from the elevation of a parking garage
You may argue that his crime isn’t related to what just happened in my city
You’d be wrong about that
You’d be very late to this conversation
You’d be years, decades, galaxies late to this conversation
Dallas is not
It should not take five dead officers to bring a human being’s attention to the fact that deadly weapons in the hands of disaffection and anger can be a threat to those trying to protect us
It should not take an entire city in mourning to make a nation understand that people protesting injustice are not what is ruining our country, and that silencing those voices will not solve a problem of this length and complexity
My city should not have to experience the fear and chaos and hurt and injury and pain of this event, only to have our own tragedy explained back to us by a bunch of tone-deaf self-congratulators who claim to know who is really responsible (hint: not them, or anyone they know, or anything they believe), and who don’t know us
My city is not a city of hate
It is not your news-and-sympathy binge that requires no real action
It is not your cautionary tale
It is your opportunity
To close the loop on this behind you
— Robin Myrick
[Table of Contents]
Christie Bingham is a poet who owns a restaurant in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. When she’s not cooking she’s writing. Her poems have appeared in Denton Writers Anthology, The North Texas Review and the Inn Is Free Journal of the Arts.
Dan Collins is a visual artist and poet. He misspent the better part of his youth in Corsicana, Texas, just south of Dallas. He graduated from the University of North Texas, studied at School of the Visual Arts, NYC, then drifted far and wee. He finally settled back in Dallas in 1997, where he lives near White Rock Lake. He is proud to be an active member of Dallas’ vibrant creative community. His poetry has appeared in the Blue Mesa Review, Naugatuck River Review, and the online journal [out of nothing].
Mark Crotty is the Head of School at St. John’s Episcopal School in East Dallas. A native New Yorker, he moved to Dallas from Lafayette, LA, in 1990, supposedly for a “few years.” But he fell in love with the city and now-wife Sallie, whose roots in Dallas reach back to its founding. They now live in Preston Hollow with their two teen children. Mark blogs (tokeepthingswhole.blogspot.com) and tweets (@crottymark) about education and leadership.
Sean Enfield was born and raised in Dallas, TX. He graduated from the University of North Texas with a B.A. in English literature and now teaches middle school English. He, himself, began writing in middle school, and since then, he has had a story featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and has had several poems published in online literary journals.
The first place Rosealynne Gbelawoe ever lived in Dallas was the Woodshire Mobile Home Park on Lawnview Avenue. Now she lives where she can walk on the Sante Fe Trail in Old East Dallas. She is studying to be a pharmacy technician and dreams of directing her own plays. This is the first poem she’s ever written.
Chris George was born and raised in Dallas, where he continues to work and teach. For many years he lived in the East Dallas neighborhood of Lochwood, and was the program director for the art gallery Two Bronze Doors in Lower Greenville. He currently resides in the suburbs of far North Dallas. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Sarah Lawrence’s LUX, The Arts United, and Spiderweb Salon.
Fatima-Ayan Malika Hirsi has lived in Texas for twelve years. She recently moved from Arlington to Dallas, and can often be found on sidewalks using her typewriter to birth poems for strangers. She teaches poetry in schools, libraries, and community centers across the city for The Writer’s Garret. In January 2016, she founded Dark Moon Poetry & Arts to spotlight the creative feminine energies of North Texas. She wakes in Deep Ellum mornings and tries to recall her dreams of water.
Amanda Huynh graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2011. She stayed in the area long enough to work in the medical field, get engaged, finish an English degree, get married, and receive a scholarship to attend Old Dominion University’s MFA Creative Writing Program. She was a finalist for the 2015 Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize, and recently was selected as one of eight poets for the AWP Intro Journal Project. Her work is published or forthcoming in the following journals: Front Porch Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Tahoma Literary Review, The Boiler Journal, and others.
The Writer’s Garret, Wordspace, DPC, Mad Swirl, Poets on X+, Pandora’s Box, Dallas is Paul Koniecki‘s cradle and his crucible. Paul’s first open mic reading was off Knox-Henderson at We Are 1976. Paul once read poetry as the naked baby Jesus at The Absinthe Lounge. From Oak Cliff to Rockwall, Paul Koniecki lives and works in Dallas every day.
Leo Martin. Teacher. Student. Veteran. Musician. Your friend.
Native Dallasite Joe Milazzo was raised the third child and second son of a wheelchair-bound Catholic polio survivor and a Presbyterian pacifist’s daughter. He grew up across the street from one of several DISD elementary schools named after a Confederate General whose classrooms were mostly populated by students of color. That same Lower Greenville neighborhood later became his introduction to the contortions bohemianism will pull off in order to distract itself from its gentrifying entailments. Over the years, that schoolyard has filled itself in with temporary buildings and annexes and kids who grew up in McMansions—it has even been awarded a blue ribbon—but it has not changed its name. Joe continues to live and make things in East Dallas, and with no apologies to the odds.
Robin Myrick is a writer, visual artist, curator, and educator from Houston who currently resides in the Henderson Avenue area near downtown Dallas. She first lived in the city in the go-go 80’s, and moved back to town five years ago, after a long stint in Austin and a shorter one in Los Angeles. All things and places considered, some of the best years and the worst years of her life have happened in Dallas, a few of them simultaneously.
Marcos Moses O’Sirin: “I was born in the Bayou City in the Year of the Rat. Kicked around every nook and cranny, every alleyway and highway, of this here state to end up in Old East Dallas. Mostly, b/c of the diversity, but, also, b/c the gunshots and ghetto birds help me get to sleep.”
Carlos Salas is a poet, former bookstore owner, co-host of the Poets on X+ Reading Series, with his wife-poet Opalina Salas at Lucky Dog Books in Oak Cliff, TX their creative home. He can be heard at open mics, galleries, bars, libraries, bookstores, coffee shops, festivals, porches, and has read at The Texas Beat Poetry Festival in Austin and Edinburg, TX, a participant at the first annual New Orleans Poetry Fest of 2016, broadcasted as part of the mad frantic trans-atlantic swirl-up via Mad Swirl to The Blackwater International Poetry Festival in Fermoy, Ireland and can be read in its Blue Max Review 2015 anthology published by Rebel Poetry, and currently filming via Tropic Pictures due for release sometime in 2017. Carlos met his wife, fellow poet and artist Opalina Salas at an open mic in Ft Worth TX, has been her comrade and partner for 20 years and lives with her in Oak Cliff with their visual artist dynamo daughter, Paloma, and two cats, Jack and Benny.
In this step
Opalina Salas is a poet, a former Oak Cliff bookstore owner, an editor of femme lit zine, Let It Bleed, and creator and host of the Poets on X+ reading series held in her beloved home of Oak Cliff TX. She has been a curator and hostess for many WordSpace events in Dallas and feels most at home on stage at any local open mic in her area. She is a regular contributor to The Mad Swirl, and was a featured performer at The Texas Beat Poetry Festival 2012, Forest Fest in Lamesa TX in 2011, and a participant in the first annual New Orleans Poetry Fest of 2016. She has been writing and performing in and around the DFW area for 20 years with her comrade, partner and fellow poet, Carlos Salas. Her only desire is to continue her pursuit of the open mic state-, country- and worldwide and to finally construct that one perfect poem. Until then, she continues.
Leah Tieger is a graduate of Bennington College, a fiction reader for The Boiler, and cofounder and host of WordSpace’s Looped readings in Dallas. She was a finalist for the 2016 Raynes Poetry Prize, and her work can be found in Rattle, Gravel, The East Bay Review, and Pretty Owl Poetry. Leah has lived in Dallas for ten years (first in the M Streets and now in Oak Cliff). It’s the only place she’s ever thought of as home.