“Women’s March in Albany” By Bunkong Tuon

 

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This is the fifth in a series of poems from a forthcoming poetry collection about raising a biracial daughter in Contemporary America, during this polarizing time of political and cultural upheavals where sexual harassment allegations abound, where a wall, literal and figurative, threatens to keep out immigrants like the narrator, a former refugee and child survivor of the Cambodian Genocide.

 

Women’s March in Albany

I take Chanda out of the stroller,
lift her high up over my head,
and put her on my shoulders.

So she can see that she’s never alone.
We are here for her, my wife and I,
and other women and men too.  

We will march city streets,
climb mountains, and cross rivers
and jungles to let her know.

Our strength is in our love for her.
And her strength is felt in the trembling
ground, the demands for autonomy,

respect and decency, no woman
left behind, in speaking up and out,
in hollering and screaming. In songs.

 

About the Author: Bunkong Tuon is the author of Gruel (2015) and And So I Was Blessed (2017), both poetry collections published by NYQ Books, and a regular contributor to Cultural Weekly  He is also an associate professor of English and Asian Studies at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.

 

More By Bunkong Tuon:

Ice Cream

Gender Danger

The Bite

Tightrope Dancer

 

Image Credit: “Suffragettes riding float…New York Fair, Yonkers” (1913) The Library of Congress

“Women Who Love Men Like Ours” By Rebecca Schumejda

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two part series of poems on incarceration by Rebecca Schumejda. You can read the first one here.)

Before my brother’s incarceration, I held many beliefs that I now grapple with; one is my once vehement view embracing an eye for an eye, the law of retribution. The idea once seemed simple, if you do wrong, you should suffer an equivalent consequence. The problem is I interpreted this guiding principle through the kaleidoscope of my own limited experience, an experience that did not take life’s complexity or the fallibilities of the justice system into account. The variables are endless, for example just pick up Anthony Ray Hinton’s new book, The Sun Does Shine, which discusses how he survived three decades on death row in Alabama for a crime he did not commit. The number of death row inmates who were set free is absolutely staggering. Then of course, you have to consider mental illness and countless other factors when considering retaliation in lieu of a more magnanimous alternative.

Here’s the thing, I never thought I would be standing on line, shoes in hand, waiting to walk through a metal detector at a maximum-security prison to see my little brother. I never thought I would sit across from someone whom I once knew as the kindest, gentlest person and question every conviction I ever held about him and about all my perceptions. I never thought someone I loved would cause others, including myself, such intense pain by committing an inane act, an act still unfathomable to all affected. Here’s another thing, sometimes you cannot make sense of a tragedy no matter how hard you try. That aside, I want to believe that if you are willing to look at your experiences, even the most painful ones, as opportunities to learn then you will grow as a person and you may even be able to help others along the way. I have to constantly remind myself that good can come from a tragedy, that all is not lost. I use what I know, poetry, as a catalyst for thought and discussion, the chance to make people feel less lonely. I believe poetry is a good place to start any conversation.

 

Women Who Love Men Like Ours  

I drive toward your house 
and end up at a maximum-security prison,  
knowing I didn’t make a wrong turn.  

I witness the woman guard,  
at the first checkpoint, turn away  
three women for dress code violations.  

The woman in front of me steps out of line  
to bring those three women out to her car  
where she has t-shirts and sweatpants  
in all different sizes for moments like this.   

I take off my shoes before entering  
your house, not to keep the floors clean,  
but to pass through a metal detector  
before being allowed inside.   

The guard gives me a dirty look  
for letting the woman, who helped,  
back into her place in line and I regret  
drawing attention to myself   

but then the woman says,  
We got to be here for one another  
cause ain’t no one else gives a shit  
about women who love men like ours.  

Since I feel connected for the first time  
in months, I nod in agreement as if  
I traveled hours to see my lover or husband  
instead of my little brother.  

At dusk, on my way back to a life,  
where I forget my brother’s address,  
the setting sun is an orange jumpsuit  
crumpled up in the corner of a dingy cell.

.

About the Author: Rebecca Schumejda is the author of Falling Forward (sunnyoutside press), Cadillac Men (NYQ Books), Waiting at the Dead End Diner (Bottom Dog Press), Our One-Way Street (NYQ Books) and several chapbooks including Common Wages, a joint project with poet Don Winter. She received her MA from San Francisco State University and currently lives with her family in New York’s Hudson Valley. She is a co-editor of the online publication Trailer Park Quarterly.

 

Image Credit: “Prison, Albany, N.Y” (1865) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program