I sometimes read poetry, and often, I come across a poem that strikes me so hard that I have to save it, savour it, and share it.
One such poems, by Gina Myers, is Hold It Down.
When I first read the poem, I was so awed that I wondered why I hadn’t heard of the poet before. I studied literature, but I’m ashamed, neverthelss, to admit that there are so many popular writers I’ve never event heard of. I read, but I don’t read that much. I’ve felt small when friends talk about books and writers they cherish whereas I’m just lost.
Regardless, I read the poem again, and realised it didn’t matter that I hadn’t heard of the poet before; the poem speaks louder than the poet could’ve.
It’s 70 degrees outside but in the drugstore
Christmas music plays over the speakers as
I stand in line balancing my checkbook
in my head, stretching things thin until
my next paycheck when the rent is due.
The security guard cracks a joke, but
I wasn’t paying attention, so I just smile
& step forward in line. Images move
across the screen. When I think about money
it seems impossible. All over the country
people are moving into the streets
& we’re here in Atlanta starting a new life.
Darkness surrounds the latest revision
of our shared history. Everything clouded.
Yesterday 1 couldn’t tear myself from the news
& already today the events have been distorted,
the numbers downplayed. It’s late fall
& in the early morning crispness, the leaves
fall from the trees & cover the sidewalks.
This new feeling we lack a name for, struggle
manifested in the streets & in parks & on bridges
across the nation. The headlines read
“Protesters clash with police,” but as we watched
the live stream, we saw aggression only by officers
dressed in riot gear. We saw people tossed
on the ground, hit with batons,
a woman punched in the face, an eighty-four year old
woman’s face drenched in pepper spray.
The images endless in this land of the free.
I’m losing focus, distracted by the newsfeed
on the computer screen, hitting refresh.
The cat paws at my leg, demands its own attention.
This shift entirely unexpected but necessary.
Leaves blot the window. Every so often
I leave & start from scratch, imagine
damaged relationships & sick cities
where there was no damage & no sickness
greater than anywhere else. In Atlanta,
everyone drives. The bartender called us
“hardcore” when we said we’d walked there.
She said, “No one in Atlanta walks anywhere.”
Walking home from work in post-daylight
savings time darkness I pass no one on the
sidewalks. I pass the traffic backed up by
the stoplight. The weekend passes too quickly—
I wish it would last longer, which is what this all
is really about: time & my lack of control
over it, my inability to do what I want with it.
And there’s a greater futility at work
here too—a greater frustration in my inability
to control my environment or to stop my country
from killing its citizens. The police beat people
standing still, linking arms, holding cardboard signs.
Each day I think more & more about the past,
about where things began to go wrong, where I, too,
began to go wrong. Before I moved, before I
got sick, before I unfriended you on Facebook,
before I decided I no longer loved you,
before New York, before college—thinking back
to childhood when we could run fearless
through the neighborhood at night, when
we didn’t think about the future, when we loved
our country because we didn’t know better.
Gina is a modern poet. Perhaps that’s the reason I relate to her writing so much. The story and the panic-inducing lifestyle of a youngster is all too familiar. And as I read through the poem, words jumped at me making me feel it’s me she’s talking about.
We’ve all had that mid-life crisis moment, when we look around us feeling repulsive at the society we call home. People are mean — to animals and to each other. Just as we’re trying to figure out our purpose and way in life, we watch our fellows taking incredible measures to hurt each other, and that’s heartbreaking.
We look around us and wonder why the country’s gone to the dogs. We look at authority wishing they’d be less brutal, we look at weapon-wielding children and wonder where the flowers had gone to. It’s the reality of our lives, a sight that none of us wants to see.
Growing up is a curse. We’re forced to see things and know things, and understand situations we’d rather not. It’s disturbing and painful, making us wish we were kids again, when we loved without conditions because we didn’t know better.
This poem is the heart of a broken person. It’s the heart of every 21st-century person.