Don’t you swat at a fly
Don’t you mindlessly shoot that harmless creature to the ground
And don’t you carelessly sweep its soul into the trash
Because when you show your children that a life is disposable,
You show your children to a hold a gun like they hold a flyswatter
You show them not to bat an eye
Each time an innocent body goes cold
To turn a deaf ear to the cry “Why did you shoot me?”
"I can't breathe"
Our children know death too well as it is
Their feet have memorized the way to daddy’s grave
Their ears have adjusted to sleeping without mommy’s goodnight wishes
Their shoulders have carried the weight of little coffins
Their lips whispering to the heavens, “I love you too”
Our children grow up learning how to wear the mask
They grow up learning how to cover up their identities
As if they were criminals
As if the law was out to get them
We have learned to wear the mask
To keep our eyes forward, fists unclenched, smiles wide
Asking ourselves if they can smell our fear
We have learned to say the magic words “Yes, sir”, “no, sir”, and “Thank you, sir”
In a calm and level tone
Learned to reach slowly for our license and registration, hiding shaky hands
Learned to comply even though we know that
We don’t have a seat at the table until we have a seat at the steering wheel
That the star-spangled banner won’t wave over the land free until
liberty and justice is for all
We live in survival mode
Because we make their skin crawl
Because we drop like flies
Life has always been survival of the fittest
But don’t they know that we’re more scared of them than they are of us?
Don’t they know that they’re a million times bigger?
Don’t we matter?
Haven’t our souls grown deep like rivers, rooting us in this soil?
We have known rivers
Rivers spilling from our eyes
And flowing into an ocean of losses
We’ve known rivers red, pooling underneath our bodies
We’ve known waterfalls of scars cascading from head to toe
We have paid the tribute for everything that this country will not give us
With our blood and tears and love
With our homes and family
With our lives
We have paid the price that no one else had to pay
We have crossed too many rivers to not be able to drink a taste freedom
Generation after generation later
We are still waiting for America to sing for us
Waiting for the promise of liberty and justice for all to ring true
Because we have come too far to still be so far away
We have dreamed
We have lead
We have proven that “Yes, We Can”
But we are still flies on the wall of American history
Notes taken in the margins
A scroll of text at the bottom of the news report but
“We shall overcome someday”
So don’t you swat at a fly
Show our children to soar instead of run
To lift their voices and sing
To hold each other’s hands instead of putting them up
Show them that still,
In the opening stanza, the poem references Kendrec McDade's last words, "Why did you shoot me?" Eric Gardener's, George Floyd's, and too many other's last words, "I can't breathe," and Sean Bell's last words, "I love you too."
The second stanza's mention of wearing the mask is a reference to Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "We Wear the Mask." The mention of sitting at the table is a reference to "I, Too" by Langston Hughes.
The third stanza references "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" by Langston Hughes and President Barack Obama's campaign slogan, "Yes, We Can." The last line is a reference to the song "We Shall Overcome" by Pete Seeger.
The last lines of the poem, "still we rise" are a reference to Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise."