The Act of Counting

To be black in America is to at times commune with the unnaturally dead.
— Cornell W. Brooks

Should I count my blessings:
that I don’t have bullets
buried in my back,

or that among the worst things
I’ve seen while
wearing this brown skin

are a drooling, satin-doll fetish
for my “high-yellow” skin

or the occasional “nigger”
hurled in my direction?

Mike Brown can’t count
anything anymore, not even
bullets in his body –

unless you consider crisp stars
like scattered salt in a black sky sea,
or glassy Empyrean gates,
or imagined angel wings.

I could count ropes,
rapes, bullets, chains,
accusations, catcalls;

white boys unwilling
to introduce me
to their parents;

the assumptions about
how I got my job or education.

I’ve ran out of fingers
and I’m tired of numbering sins
no one asks us to forgive;

I only say
that no one should count
on us to forget.

Written 8/14/14
© 2014 Nicole Nicholson. All rights reserved.
This poem was written to address many things I feel, and to the recent Red Wolf Wordle. I used these words: crisp, glassy, wings, white, salt.

The epigraph comes from a speech given by NAACP president Cornell W. Brooks at a church in St. Louis, as documented by Maurice Tracy in this Huffington Post article. It sent chills through me, and almost reminded me a little of Jamaal May’s poem, “Open Mouth Requiem” (it is the last poem on the page in the link). I cannot help but think about the events in Ferguson, Missouri, not just as a multiracial woman who’s part of the African diaspora in America, but as a human being. And both aspects of me are horrified, angered, and saddened. But these events also made me think of how I have personally experienced racism in my life…and how I feel a community’s worth of pain.

Our dysfunctional history as a nation is part of the reason for why events like Ferguson even happen. Although we are taught in school about the Founding Fathers’ fight for liberty, we must understand that not everyone was granted that liberty from the beginning. It is that heritage and history that still live with us today. Consider: when the United States first became a nation over two centuries ago, much of its population did not have the right to vote (namely women, African-Americans, and American Indigenous). Consider: the Bill of Rights, in the minds of many, was not taken to apply to these same groups of people…hence amendments to the Constitution and civil rights laws were even needed.

We need to face up to the truth, folks. America was not intended as “land of the free, home of the brave” by most of our founding fathers for anyone except white (and to some extent, Protestant) male landowners. People who did not fit into these categories have had to fight for their rights. Even people we now consider to be “white” have been discriminated against. Ever heard of those “no Irish need apply” signs? Ever wonder why entertainment luminaries of Jewish, Italian, or Hispanic origin such as Jerry Lewis, the late Lauren Bacall, Dean Martin, and Martin Sheen resorted to using stage names in their professions? And let’s not even get started on categories of people that are irrespective of race: disability, religion, or sexual orientation, for example.

Yes, this is America…our racist America. BUT THAT CAN CHANGE. THIS CAN TRULY BE A COUNTRY WITH “LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR *ALL*”. But it is up to us to take action and change things.

I understand that I will make some of my readership uncomfortable with my poem, and these remarks. Please understand that I am not attacking you, personally or otherwise. I am attacking a broken system which needs to be either repaired, or demolished to bring about something new.



About ravenswingpoetry

I am a 38 year old writer from Columbus, OH and the creator of Raven's Wing Poetry. I am a poet, seeker, fellow traveler, and autistic.
This entry was posted in Poems, Prompt Poems, Red Wolf Poems and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Act of Counting

  1. Your poem is heartfelt… I wish it wasn’t necessary, maybe one day – sooner than later I hope.

  2. kaykuala says:

    This is a brave poem Nicole! You said it as it is. Perception and prejudice are not easy to unravel. And you said it direct from the heart! Great write Ma’am!


  3. Misky says:

    No one should forget, Nicole, and I suspect no one will … except those who make it a choice.

  4. Bastet says:

    Well said right to the end … I’ve lived expat for so many years and each time I come “home” I’m so shocked by the general air of prejudice and inequality … not only towards blacks but in general. The choice to change is universal … even in Europe there are so many things that need to be changed in the “brave new world” … hopefully the young people will take up the challenge, I don’t have much hope for the older generation.

  5. Your poem didn’t make me uncomfortable: it made me angry – angry that in 2014 it should still be necessary to have written it. It also made me ashamed – ashamed that my fellow human beings could still treat minority groups so badly.

  6. Suzanne says:

    Strong words indeed – racism is so damaging and hurtful. Your words may make some uncomfortable but speak them as loud as you can sister. They are words that must be said.

  7. klh048 says:

    Reblogged this on Writer's Cramp and commented:
    Powerful and sad

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