Imani Marshall-Stephen

How Do I Fight?


Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves

And blood at the root

Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit”


Listening to Billie Holiday weep “Strange Fruit,”

I asked myself a question.

In the wake of the brown fruit plucked

and wasted on the concrete,

I asked myself a question: How do I fight?

How do I fight

when the lump in my throat feels like a mountain

lodged in a twisty straw,

my mouth open wide in silence,

darkness lying dormant inside

like the words that got stuck there?

How do I fight

when my feet are paralyzed

in a pool of my very tears

and compassion fills me up more now

than the fire in my belly?

How do I fight

when I can’t master the form my fingers should take

to make a proper fist;

my thumb sticks out,

clumsy and too smooth to make an imprint?

How do I fight

when I can’t save

their sons, brothers, fathers, husbands,

my son, brother, father, husband

from the sharp teeth

ripping through their veins, spilling their blood?

How do I fight

when my enemy is invisible,

when my enemy is cloaked

in the ideology of hate,

in the practice of loathing,

in the sorrow of insecurity,

in the emerald of jealousy,

in the illusion of life,

even after it’s been ripped

from the very concaved chest of a “him”

too carbon to be worth the trouble of caring?

How do I fight

when as I write this,

I’m chocking on the very air that allows me

to write, to live, to fight...but how?

when everything seems too big for this 5’3” frame to reach,

when I’m too engulfed by the massiveness of the thing

to know where to begin,

when this thing seems to be as endless as the horizon,

when this thing lives behind smiling faces

who see “him” and actually want the world to exist without him, better yet, think it should?

How do I fight

when I’m afraid to die,

afraid of what I’ll miss,

afraid of who won’t miss me

because we forget over time?

The souls thrown from this plane

because they were too plain to fit in

fly from our memories

when the now and then have enough clock ticks between them.

How do I fight

when it won’t bring “him” back,

and the lump in my throat grips my tongue,

and I want to hug my husband

and chain him to the couch in here.

Don’t go out there

where black barrels scream

behind metal shields sworn to keep us safe,

where you are the indigenous prey of a foreign hunter,

the dark stain on the fabric of fabricated truth,

the shit they can’t wait to scrape off their shoe.

How do I fight?

What do I do

to make just one ripple in the revolution

that promises to make something beautiful

from the splattered red paint strewn across this concrete canvas,

to clear the weeds from our minds

and ingest their nutrients for the strength

to keep coming for them,

coming for more,

coming for blood,

not just theirs but ours,

to keep our blood warm, hot and untouchable?

How do I fight?

I don’t know the answer yet.

But I’ll keep asking the question

until I do.

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