Charlottesville/ Alice Beecher

when they first came—-
like an army of ghost birds 
the tightening of their paper white jaws 
the slap of metal onto muscle, 
the woken memories of our grandfathers 
the hot south spinning into sap
the taut cobweb of bracing knuckles
a symbol like a broken limb 
the fear that repeats itself like water
the fear that repeats itself like water

what was lost—-
the muttering of shoes onto sidewalk. 
the breath in a priest’s mouth. 
the view from your grandaddy’s gun. 
the coffee spilt on the klansmen. 
the moaning of a flock of doves 
the vinegar on a black bandana 
the victory march.

what you did—-
how the crowd grew out from the city like cotton 
how the car buckled on the bellies of your friends 
how it sounded like the throat of a rifle
how for once you remembered how to run
remembered asthma attacks and softball fields 
remembered forest night-time fire drills
remembered the dewy pages of your history books 
terezin and ferguson and catalonia
remembered how every moment is a choice: 
fight or flight 
fight or flight

what has become of all of it—-
we learn to laugh at the ruins of a grim kingdom 
there goes the dirty flag
there goes robert e. lee 
there goes the sweet winds of virginia 
there goes nina simone’s lungs 
I wish I knew how 
how it feels 
to be free


10380859_872008539478611_6279326895865457798_oAlice Beecher is an Appalachian Transition Fellow with the Highlander Center for Research and Education. She currently lives in Whitesburg, KY, where she works with groups working to build a new economy in the mountains, and organizes spoken word workshops. Her poetry has appeared in the book States of the Union, and in The Plum Creek Review, HeartWood Literary Magazine, and ETSU’s: Now and Then. She was the first place winner of the 2016 West Virginia Writers Emerging Writer’s Contest.


Header Image: Creative Commons, Public Domain.

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