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Evie Shockley

weather or not


time was on its side, its upside down. it was a new error. generation why-not had voted its con-science and a climate of indifference was generating maelstromy weather. we acted as if the planet was a stone-cold player, but turns out the earth had a heart and it was melting, pacific islanders first into the hotter water. just a coincidence—the polar bears are white and their real estate was being liquidated too. meanwhile, in the temper-temper zone, the birds were back and i hadn’t slept—had it been a night or a season? the birdsong sounded cheap, my thoughts cheaper, penny, inky, dark. language struck me as wooden, battered. the words became weeds, meaning i couldn’t see any use for them. i had signed my name repeatedly without any sign of change. i was still bleeding from yesterday’s sound bites, and the coming elections were breeding candid hates by the hand-over-fistful. there’d been an arab spring, but it was winter all summer in america.



the way we live now ::


            when the cultivators of corpses are busy seeding

plague across vast acres of the land, choking schools

            and churches in the motley toxins of grief, breeding

virile shoots of violence so soon verdant even fools

            fear to tread in their wake :: when all known tools

of resistance are clutched in the hands of the vile

            like a wilting bouquet, cut from their roots, while


the disempowered slice smiles across their own faces

            and hide the wet knives in writhing thickets of hair

for future use :: when breathing in the ashen traces

            of dreams deferred, the detonator’s ticking a queer

echo that amplifies instead of fading :: when there-

            you-are is where-you-were and the sunset groans

into the atlantic, setting blue fire to dark white bones.



what’s not to liken?


the 14-year-old girl was treated like:

            (a) a grown woman.

            (b) a grown man.


the bikini-clad girl was handled by the cop like:

            (a) a prostitute.

            (b) a prostitute by her pimp.


the girl was slung to the ground like:

            (a) a sack of garbage into a dumpster.

            (b) somebody had something to prove.


the girl’s braids flew around her head like:

            (a) helicopter blades.

            (b) she’d been slapped.


the black girl was pinned to the ground like:

            (a) an amateur wrestler in a professional fight.

            (b) swimming in a private pool is a threat to national security.


the girl’s cries sounded like:

            (a) the shrieks of children on a playground.

            (b) the shrieks of children being torn from their mothers.


the protesting girl was shackled like:

            (a) a criminal.

            (b) a runaway slave.


liken it or not

                                        —mckinney, texas, june 2015

-from semiautomatic (Wesleyan Poetry Series, 2017, Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), selected by POW Spring 2021 Guest Editor, Cyrus Cassells.

Evie Shockley has published multiple books of poetry, including semiautomatic (Wesleyan Poetry Series, 2017), Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; the new black (Wesleyan, 2011), winner of the Black Caucus of ALA’s Literary Award for Poetry; and a half-red sea"(Carolina Wren Press, 2006), in addition to two chapbooks. She also has a book of criticism, Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry (Iowa, 2011). Shockley has had essays and reviews published in such journals as Callaloo, African American Review, and Indiana Review. Her poetry has appeared in MELUS, Harvard Review, Columbia Poetry Review, and in the anthology Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, among many other publications. Shockley has sat on a number of panels and given many presentations at a variety of conferences including MLA, the American Studies Association Conference, and the American Literature Association. She has read at the Vermont Studio Center, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Barnard College, University of New Mexico, and at a number of other universities and literary venues. Shockley received the 2012 Theodore H. Holmes ’51 and Bernice Holmes National Poetry Prize, awarded to "a single poet of special merit" by the faculty of Princeton University’s creative writing program.

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