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June Jordan — Who See Me

June JordanA few excerpts from ‘Who See Me’, an early poem of June Jordan’s, written for a book of portraits in 1969. Heartbreaking in its capture of confronting hate in the eyes others when you momentarily cease to be invisible — or only partially invisible. Confronting the violence of this seeing/not-seeing, this hate that comes from nothing you’ve said or done.

A white stare splits the air
by blindness on the subway
in department stores
The Elevator
(that unswerving ride
where man the brother
by his side)

A white stare splits obliterates
the nerve-wrung wrist from work
the breaking ankle or
the turning glory
of a spine

Is that how we looks to you
a partial nothing clearly real?

 

No doubt
the jail is white where I am born
but black will bail me out

**

We have lived as careful
as a church and prayer
in public

 

that white terrain
impossible for black America to thrive
that hostile soil to mazelike toil
backbreaking people into pain

we grew by work by waiting
to be seen
black face black body and black mind
beyond obliterating
homicide of daily insult daily death
the pistol slur the throbbing redneck war
with breath

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