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A Poem on Generations Witnessing Cycles of Death and Destruction (Audio)

Posted on Feb 1, 2017


    Mermaid,” by Chitra Ganesh. (Chitra Ganesh)

Written during the Obama era, Tamiko Beyer’s poem serves as a painful reminder of how “horde white-hot power” causes “rage that liquefies/ our hearts, whole communities,” regardless of our president’s skin color. Take a look at “As if balanced on light” and listen to Beyer read her poem below.

Photo of the poet
Tamiko Beyer reads "As if balanced on light."

(2.5 MB)

As if balanced on light

By Tamiko Beyer


Even dying, sand-speckled,
drying, jellyfish can sting—
their streaming arms

non-ambulatory and toxic. Strange
creatures with no blood. Knowing
we were about to dive

into the water, we did not linger
to gaze on their gelatinous bodies
shimmering on the New England beach.

I was thick
on your fingers. We swam through the deep,
Emerged to a seagull pulling flesh

from shattered shell:
red, salty, slick.


Who puts automatic weapons
in the hands of cops?
Who witnesses the killing

of black teenage boys? Generations
and generations. Shot up in a cop car,
shot up on the corner.

A rage that liquefies
our hearts, whole communities
spilling into the streets, drenched.

The president sends in the national
guard. His skin
not white like the others, but the papers

he signs just as white,
Not shot up on the corner,

followed by secret service. Hand to system
strategizing sieges. Horde white-hot power.


When I was a child, so many queer
men died
their bodies porous

to the world’s infections. Cankers
blistering on their skin, muscles
shrinking to bone.

A societal seizure of unseeing,
we turned
from sweat-soaked sheets

to skating rinks.
The men contagious and unknowing
burrowed into each other’s bodies,

alive with sex.
I did not know then they were kin.


Later, in the water, a welt
on my forearm, a sting. Later, in bed,
your teeth on my skin.

What to do
with this desperate desire
to reconcile our yearnings

and our bloodshed?
The thief that makes us long
for something greater than ourselves.

All night long we were bruised and culpable,
responsible and willfully ignorant. I give you this—
the only thing to offer up:

my body splayed, its stalwart,
bloody sound.

Tamiko Beyer is the author of “We Come Elemental” (Alice James Books, 2013) and “bough breaks” (Meritage Press, 2011). Her poems have appeared in The Denver Quarterly, Dusie and The Volta.

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Truthdig will publish poems that offer insight into current events and sociopolitical themes relevant to today’s world. From entries across the nation, Truthdig staff will select poems based on both their artistic qualities as well as the social issues they discuss. To read our guidelines and submit a poem for our consideration, click here.

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