After the Arrow | Dorothy Johnson-Laird

After the Verdict

Dedicated to the memory of Amadou Diallo
I see your kind eyes shining out of those pictures
with your brothers and  sister
journeying from Africa to America
you came here because you wanted your mother to relax into old age 
you wanted so much for your family
your hope, not forgotten after all these years  

my breath is captured for a moment 
I stare at the tv screen flickering out at me 
I look at the holes where the gun shots poured in
just looking at those spaces, I want them filled back in 
wanting the gun shots to disappear 
wanting something, anything to take them away 

I was imagining the policemen outside your door 
the fear on your face, in your gentle hands 
as they reached for their guns before reaching for thought 
they were on automatic, aiming at a target 
they didn’t ask your name or address 
they didn’t ask anything of you

what happened to their feeling? 
did it get lost as the gun fire let loose 
did it get lost as your body splayed out in front of them 
what happened to your humanity, your wisdom 
your spirit that caught fire?

how could a wallet be mistaken for a weapon? 
how could your beautiful face be mistaken for a killer’s?
as you stood and then fell down
blues fell with blood in that hallway

that blood stain could be seen for days years afterwards 
even though they tried their best to cover it up

how treacherous is the journey to silence? 
how treacherous is the journey to silence?  

I wanted to tell you Amadou 
the police were set free 
but we will not let them forget 
we will not let them forget the murder 
because after killing, the blood can never be washed off their hands 

and now, I imagine your mother
shaking in the night she was told her oldest son died 
her whole body shakes in the blue night 
her whole body shakes in blues 
she carries that grief on her shoulders 
In her chest, it stays inside her eyes  
such sadness 

what it must feel to lose a child? 
to lose her oldest son 
to never be able to look in his eyes again 
to never be able to hold him 
never be able to hold -   Amadou 
she holds her head - Amadou 
she says his name over and over again

she is sinking 
she is sinking Amadou 
she is lost in her memory of birthing you 
of bringing you into this life 
yet somehow she stays standing 
she doesn’t surrender  

and I too am remembering 
I wish you the peace that comes with still, cool water 
the peace that comes with the African sun rising over your tender hands 
rising and wrapping cloth around your bullet wounds with love 
and singing you home to your resting place 
and singing you home 
just singing you home with love

©Maurício Mascaro
via Pexels

Arrow Man

Dedicated to John Trudell (February 15, 1946 – December 8, 2015) 
Santee Dakota Activist,  Actor, Musician, Writer and Poet 
The great lie is that it is civilization, it is not civilized.
John Trudell
When Black Elk, Heȟáka Sápa, the Lakota spirit man dreamed 
He said that Indians moved in a circle
They did not move in straight lines

And you too danced in your own way  
Never direct 
Honoring the footsteps of your ancestors 

You were a modern seeker 
Standing firm on Alcatraz island as part of the Red Power Movement 
It was a two year occupation, you demanded recognition for broken treaties that were strewn across open highways 

Broken papers, broken ink that was swept over or swept away  
By place names called Custer after the great American hero who was highlighted in official history books
By lies of a murderer who bulleted Indian bodies into the cold frozen snow 

Oneday a line of fire flickered out across your family roof
Trapped inside the house were your pregnant wife, your mother-in-law and three of your children
They were killed in the fire
Even though the official word was that the fire's origins were unknown
You knew it was set, deliberate, the pattern on the roof was too direct 

'I died then, I had to die, in order to get through it' you wrote 
Your writing came to you as a gift at that time  
Your poetry became your “hanging on lines” 
Your writing came with such force that you could not refuse it
It overtook your spirit, it was your way to survive 
Once you said that Indian people did not need to wait for a nuclear war 
It was already happening on the land from the mining of Uranium 

You loved the grasses, the high sacred Black Hills, the sunrise moving within you
You would not let their lies quieten you
You would not put down your weapons 
Arrows flowing over your fingers 

You opened your hands up  
Seeking wisdom from the North 
Your words fearless as they spun out in circles across the night sky

©2022 Dorothy Johnson-Laird
All rights reserved

Dorothy Johnson-Laird…

…is a poet, social worker, and activist who lives in New York City.  She received a B.A. in creative writing from New School University and an M.F.A in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College.  Dorothy also works as a music journalist with a passion in African music. She has published journalism AfroPop with and Music Central, among others.

Recent poetry has been published with The BeZine and Fresh Words Magazine. More of Dorothy’s poetry can be found on her FaceBook page.

Garden Photograph Blues | Dorothy Johnson-Laird

This Garden

You see all we have is this garden. 
These bare, raw, hardened hands.
All we have is this garden. 
This earth to grow with, these plants to root for. 

All we have is this gathering of brother, sister, father, son.
They come here to garden together,
To break bread and sip water in the dusk.

In this garden, love was made. 
Children grew and learned the flowers, 
And grew some more and learned to plant. 

The old woman with her white, white hair
Comes here to work the corn. 
She sings to the children as they gather at her feet. 
They can recognize the sound of her deep, husky voice. 
“We shall overcome, we shall overcome,” her voice embraces the night air
The children memorize the song until they can sing it back to her. 

You see they want to call this land real estate. 
They think they can split it apart at the center, 
Destroy its twisty paths, willow tree. 

They think more of a community can be made by 
Gutting the earth and slapping concrete over it, charging per square mile. 

They imagine that the love this garden was made with can be uprooted, 
Tossed to the side. 
They have forgotten the feel of fresh corn in hardened hands, 
How the sun strokes your back as you work the tomatoes.
They have forgotten that a child’s wisdom isn’t always found in books. 

This garden was a refuge for the children
In the hustle of this crazy city, 
To try to prevent them from running wild on the Lower East side 
When the streets are layered with drugs, syringes, anger. 

Maude with her white hair and bustling energy 
Has spent hours tending to this sweetness.
She knows the way to create with plants,
How to tend to them, 
Caress them with her fingertips, even sing to them.
She won’t let anyone hurry her. 
She is stubborn with her blue cotton scarf on 
And a tunic that contains her gardening shears, her winterized gloves.

The men with the bulldozer have come.
But Maude saw them from down the block, long before they arrived.  
She just sits down, planting herself on the earth,   
Rooted as a wizened tree 
She blocks their passage at the garden’s entrance 

“They cannot enter” she sings to herself “They cannot enter.” 
The children sing behind her, echoing her. 
And then she lets out a big belly laugh, 
She cackles at them, not saying a word. 
In her firm, rooted place, nothing and no-one’s going to move her now,
                    Not even their big engine.

A Rose
Digital Art
Miroslava Panayotova ©2022

Harriet’s Last Photograph

In the last year of your life, they took a photo of you.
It was a formal picture.
You were seated outside in a large wooden chair,
You were seated upright, the green lawn falling away behind you, The trees marked a background in the distance. 

Your eyes looked out far beyond the camera lens.
Your eyes looked away from the camera's eye in defiance,
You were not going to smile in that moment.
You were not going to pretend happiness:
It was impossible for you,
Not after the years of fighting.
You were not going to let the viewer of that photograph forget your journeys, The way your hands had lifted up young slave children from the floor, Pulling them onto your back,
Stepping out into the cold winter night, with no possibility of going back, Finding a way to keep going forward. 

In this last photo they took of you,
You were dressed all in white, with a shawl wrapped around your thinning face, White hair cut close to your head.
You were strong, yet a model of peace. 

Looking out beyond the camera, what did you see?
Perhaps you still carried within you
Those old journeys to freedom, hiding behind newspapers,
Lodging yourself between cars on trains,
When they set dogs on you, you disappeared.
You had a way of knowing how to find the shadows of walls in the middle of sun-light. It was a power that they could never know or pull apart. 

Harriet, you were born different from the other girls.
Less passive, you carried yourself upright,
When the other girls giggled or looked down at the ground. 

Araminta was your birth name, it meant defender of the people.
Once you crossed the line to freedom, you could have remained North,
But each time, even though your hands were worn out, your feet were calloused from miles of walking. You determined to go back again to rescue someone.
You said, “I never lost a passenger”

You were 94 years old in this photograph.
Even though you were aged, you gripped the chair's arm firmly. The toughness was still inside you.
It allowed you to journey forward
No matter what came your way. 

Digital Art
Miroslava Panayotova ©2022

Manhattan Lock Down Blues

Woke up this morning with the Manhattan lock down blues 
Said I woke up this morning with the Manhattan lock down blues 
Something came over this country 
And I can no longer lace my shoes 

Someone has stolen the economy and sent it out with the rain 
Someone has stolen the economy and sent it out with the rain 
Companies are starting to crash, jobs going down the drain 

He’s a mad magician pulling feathers from his hat 
But has the Doctor told him where the rabbit's at? 
The narcissist has taken over 
His twitter feed has gone wild 
Now even more journalists must fact check his lies 

The police have become the military 
Shooting at random with no restraint 
The police are now an army 
And they are starting to look insane 

Woke up this morning with the Manhattan lock down blues 
Said I woke up this morning with the Manhattan lock down blues 
There’s a Mad Hatter in Washington 
Who is out on another tirade

Meanwhile, the sirens in New York city soar 
And a thousand homeless people are not rescued from their shelter 
Don’t mention the unemployed who must decide between rent or hunger 
And the person who doesn’t have a voice to express his anger

As the virus numbers peak 
Mr 45 says he is not so sick
And he breathes heavily outside the White House front door 

Mr 45 claims there’s an easy cure 
Perhaps he wants to distract the public with his talk of greatness again
But he’s left his medicine in the Hospital with his hydroxychloroquine brain

©2022 Dorothy Johnson-Laird
All rights reserved

Dorothy Johnson-Laird…

…is a poet, social worker, and activist who lives in New York City.  She received a B.A. in creative writing from New School University and an M.F.A in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College.  Dorothy also works as a music journalist with a passion in African music. She has published journalism with Afropop Worldwide and World Music Central, among others.

A recent poem was accepted for publication by Evening Street Review.