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It’s April 1st, which means it is the start of National Poetry Month! You might be thinking why do we need poetry at a time like this. Friend, now is exactly the time when we need poetry, when we need uplifting, when we need prophetic vision for what’s possible because needless to say this garbage fire ain’t it.
Speaking of garbage, these two poems from Scalawag’s print issue 18 focus on an expansive environmental justice and a radically reimagined society where both people and the land are safe. Che Justus and Alina Stefanescu watch the old world die and lyrically construct a new one where no life is throw-away, where even the landfills sing.
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Peaches’ Mother Daydreams in the Bath
—after Nina Simone
and now / i uncurl my knuckles, unhitch my chest / ease this body with stolen time and lavender / first lick of salvation i get / and find acres i’m not forced to mind / it’ll be my pleasure to sweat in that sun / be with that land / a day / i live instead of survive / until that day / i’ll not let go any hate in my heart / what else / but spite to keep me / alive with purpose: / to gnash teeth, to conjure curse / i fear no evil / for i am home to it / but if this heart / soon gifts me death / let it radiate for a hundred years / leak into the roots / vibrate the leaves / turn fruit to rot / i wish no crop blossom / till my enemies / are the soil / where they spring / i wish no gentle summers / i wish winters make them pray for harsh summers / i wish them poisoned water and underfunded schools and mass incarceration and forced sterilization / i wish them a god who promises it’ll be alright in the hereafter / i wish for them no hereafter / not until that day / i can look my child / in their face / and tell them.
Che Justus is a Black Southern radical trans writer from Birmingham, Alabama. Their writing has appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Winter Tangerine Review, and Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity. They were a featured author for the 100 Thousand Poets for Change series to support the campaign to shut down the Etowah immigration detention center.
Poet Laureate of the Landfill
The local landfill needs a poet laureate to speak for the masses,
the bodies gathered together in this republic of hot trash.
My friends argue over sonnets as if to bonnet their anxiety
into the southern myth of Us, to hide the fear that feels like tangles
when we touch or step back from sincerity, lush as landfill pastorals,
ripe with quiet resentment. It’s hard to celebrate the smother of rubbish,
the tower of melted plastic, the steeple of holy waste as our rights!
our rights! fold our wrongs into margins of cloud-scented laundry.
Look, even the freshness is faked. I am here for the ravage we’ve left.
I am here to poem the flower-eating snail, the shitlorn weeds who lift
their arms through the sidewalk like fan-girls at a concert they’ll later erase,
the shame of loving something stripped of value. I am here to heartbeat the landfill,
to psalm the sudden thunderstorm, to history the lawn’s least vicious violets
when months of drought dry us out. I am here to laud the ordinary silence
between lisped libretto of tornado-stunned trees, to lyric grief’s gouged-open
eyelid, to confess the polluted placentas inside us. Even the rhapsodists
of failed revolutions survive in rooms too small for all we ask of them;
for all we ask of a mouth, I have nothing more dazzling than one
branch of dogwood thickening into bough. A poem needn’t be a another
home for a patriarch’s violence. The lie groomed in verse is worse than the casual
fiblet tossed to the lover whose lips curse you on the drive out. Forget
the hero: no poet is innocence of the selfish rib buried in a stanza, or the pain
we imagine unique, or the point we turn into a ruler that justifies the lifestyle this
american needs. I want to use greed as a verb here. I want you to see
the stakes of the long game if this is the precious line about wren nests
and this is the line about dandelions, and this is the enjambment
that builds suspense when someone touches a gardened green thing
as someone else dooms subjects into symbols we recycle and toss
straight into the dumpster where everything american is fulfilled by fire
and fury and holy-roly, multiple wargasm
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in the poem you need
for the land you lost
when using your voice
to speak for the moss.
Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Birmingham, Alabama. Her first poetry chapbook, Objects in Vases (Anchor & Plume Press, 2016) won the 2016 Award for Poetry Book of the Year from the Alabama State Poetry Society (ASPS). Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Prize and was published in May 2018. Alina serves as poetry editor for Pidgeonholes, ASPS president, and board member for the Alabama Writers’ Cooperative and Magic City Poetry Festival.