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Dawn oversees percolating coffee and the new wreckage of the world.
I stand before my routine reflection, button up my sanity, brush weary strands of hair with pomade and seal cracked lips of distrust with cocoa butter and matte rouge.
I ready myself once again for morning and mortify. Stacking poetry and bills in a knapsack; I bundle up hope (it's brutal out there).
For a moment, I stand with ghosts and the framed ancestors surrounding me. I call out, hoping she can hear me over the day-breaking sirens— hoping she's not far away, or right down the street, praying over another dead black boy.
How will we make it through this, Ms. Brooks?
When she held a body, she saw much worse than this. I know she was earshot and fingertip close to oppression. She saw how hateful hate could be. She raised babies, taught Stone Rangers, grew a natural and wrote around critics.
She won a Pulitzer in the dark.
She justified our kitchenette dreams, and held on. She held on to all of us.
Hold On, she whispers.
Another day, when I have to tip-toe around the police and passive-aggressive emails from people who sit only a few feet away from me. Another day of fractured humans who decide how I will live and die, and I have to act like I like it so I can keep a job; be a team player, pay taxes on it; I have to act like I'm happy to be slammed, severed, and swindled. Otherwise, I'm just part of the problem— a rebel rouser and rude.
They want me to like it, or at least pretend, so the pretty veils that blanket who we really are— this complicated history, can stay pretty and veiled like some desert belly dancer who must be seen but not heard.
We are a world of lesions. Human has become hindrance. We must be stamped and have papers, and still, it's not enough. Ignorance has become powerful. The dice that rolls our futures is platinum but hollow inside.
Did you see that, Ms. Brooks? Do you see what we've become? They are skinning our histories, deporting our roots, detonating our very right to tell the truth. We are one step closer to annihilation.
Hold On, she says, two million light years away.
She's right. Hold On everybody. Hold On because the poets are still alive—and writing. Hold On to the last of the disappearing bees and that Great Barrier Reef. Hold On to the one sitting next to you, not masked behind some keyboard. The one right next to you. The ones who live and love right next to you. Hold On to them.
And when we bury another grandmother, or another black boy; when we stand in front of a pipeline, pour another glass of dirty drinking water and put it on the dining room table, next to the kreplach, bratwurst, tamales, collards, and dumplings that our foremothers and fathers—immigrants, brought with them so we all knew that we came from somewhere; somewhere that mattered. When we kneel on the rubbled mosques, sit in massacred prayer circles, Holding On is what gets us through.
We must remember who we are. We are worth fighting for. We've seen beauty. We've birthed babies who've only known a black President. We've tasted empathy and paid it forward. We've Go-Funded from wrong to right. We've marched and made love. We haven't forgotten—even if they have—Karma is keeping watch.
Hold On. Hold On everybody. Even if all you have left is that middle finger around your God-given right to be free, to be heard, to be loved, and remembered…Hold On, and keep Holding.
"When Gwendolyn Brooks wrote Hold On at the bottom of a photograph she put in my hand, and red marks all over the three poems I had to my name, it anchored me in a real time of need. It was the first and only time we met and she anchored me. I see a world moving into uncertainty and I think about Ms. Brooks, those two anchor words she gave me, and I continue to Hold On for dear life." —Parneshia Jones
Parneshia Jones is the author of Vessel (Milkweed Editions, 2015). She is the poetry editor and sales and community outreach manager at Northwestern University Press. She lives in Chicago.
"from Citizen, VI [I knew whatever was in front of me was happening]" by Claudia Rankine
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