Principles Poem by Danez Smith


after JFK


ask not what your country can do for you
ask if your country is your country
ask if your country belongs to your country folk
ask if your country is addicted to blood
ask if your country is addicted to forgetting
ask if your country is an oil & power fiend
ask if your country shakes at night starving
for bodies if bodies mean your country
keeps on being your country in the same ol' ways
ask if your country was built of stolen land
and stolen breath, if democracy is a chain
tight as skin around your neck
ask if your comfort means elsewhere
someone is burying a daughter
ask if your comfort means round
the corner a man is dead cause a cop
mistook his body for a gun
ask if your comfort means broke schools
& food deserts on the other side of town
ask if your new apartment used to belong
to someone who couldn't afford to look
like you, ask yourself if all the things
you are scared to admit are shovels
slowly filling up a brown boy's throat.


all lives don't matter
the same as all lives

some lives matter
only to themselves

some lives matter
only they hood

some lives matter
of fact & some lives
up for debate

all lives matter
to someone

but what about
this life of mine?

honey colored
& black as it is?

what my life mean to you?
am i talking to you?
do you wish me justice
or do you wish I would just
shut up already, vanish already?


Diamond Reynolds is a hero
where no one should have to be a hero

steady as she can be with daughter
in the back seat and Philando
slowly becoming a memory
right next to her, gun still pointed
at his body, cop outside the window
scared of a man he already
turned into a myth. thinks him
zombie when he already
imagined him ghost.

Diamond be diamond strong
in a world treat our people
like bad water. Diamond
unbreakable but why they
test her like that? why they
send bullets through our
bodies like they trying
to see if we real or just
a bad dream? why they
nightmare us into beast?
why they comfort the cops
and not the families?
why administrative leave?
why they look up the record
before they check the pulse?
why they try to spin the story
before they call the ambulance?
why they more worried about
getting caught then they worried
about the killing? why they
protect and serve themselves
from us? why they want us to
apologize for being
in the way of they bullets?
what good is police?
what is the American dream
to a brown person
except a dream of America
leaving us alone?


i don't want America no more.
i want to be a citizen of something new.
i want a country for the immigrant hero.
i want a country where joy is indigenous
as the people.
i want a country that keeps its word.
i want to not be scared to drink the water.
i want a country that don't bomb other countries.
i want a country that don't treat a it's people
like a virus. i want a country not trying
to cure itself of me. i want a country
that treats my mama right. i want a land
where my sister can be free. i want a country
that don't look at me and my man & think
about where and how we should urn.
I want a nation under a kinder god
I want justice the verb not justice the dream.
i want what was promised to me
i want 40 acres and a vote that matters.
i want no prisons and a mule.
i want all lives to matter.
i want to be over with race
but race ain't over me.
i want peace. i want equity. i want guns
to be melted into a masque, a church
a place for us to pray
and i wanna stop praying for my country
to be mine, for it to put the gun down
to take the bomb back.

hope is hard but i have it
i look at students hands
& imagine all that they will mother.
Christ, oh name i was raised to pray to.
oh Allah, sweet lord of my father.
oh all you gods of my homies and gods
of strangers, work together
to build us into tools to build
anything other world but this.
make us so that we may make us
a world we can be grateful for
not grateful in spite of

let us not be idol or stunned by fear
let us not be so comfortable that we
ignore another's grieving instead
of ending what makes her grieve

let us not be scared of the work because
it's hard
let us move the mountain
because the mountain must move

let us, oh lords above us and within
let us be useful to our neighbors
& tender their wounds
let us be more bandage than blade
unless the blade is needed

let us be a sword against what does not
bring us closer to home

let us be dangerous to that which fails us

and bring us a world good to us, all of us
all us all us

Danez Smith

Danez Smith

Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States
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