this is the function
of violence–
to make you shackle
your own tongue
chain it
until it atrophies
train it
to recoil
make you consider swallowing it
because after so long
what else is there to say?
aren't the words all used up?

& cut off your hands, too
cuz you're tired of digging graves

set yourself ablaze
forget the sackcloth
you'll become the ashes
you'll return to dust
you don't remember
what dust feels like
but you do know
that's the point
you don't want to remember
how it feels

yet here your tongue revolts
& you will honor
the blackness they call thug
the divinity they call perversity
the sacred they say is unholy
ain't it something how they say
our sacred
is unholy
yet they stay sacrificing us
makes you wonder
what heaven they are seeking
when this blood-letting
this splitting of bone
scarring of spirit
this caustic bleaching
is none righteous

Destiny Hemphill is a poet and healer based in Durham, NC. She is the author of the chapbook Oracle: A Cosmology (2018), which was a finalist for Honeysuckle Press’s inaugural chapbook prize. She is a 2017 Callaloo Fellow and a 2016 Amiri Baraka Scholar at Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program. Her work has been featured in Narrative Northeast, The Wanderer, Winter Tangerine, Scalawag, and elsewhere.