What’s Genocide?

their high school principal
told me I couldn’t teach
poetry with profanity
so I asked my students,
“Raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Holocaust.”
in unison, their arms rose up like poisonous gas
then straightened out like an SS infantry
“Okay. Please put your hands down.
Now raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Rwandan genocide.”
blank stares mixed with curious ignorance
a quivering hand out of the crowd
half-way raised, like a lone survivor
struggling to stand up in Kigali
“Luz, are you sure about that?”
“That’s what I thought.”

“Carlos—what’s genocide?”

they won’t let you hear the truth at school
if that person says “fuck”
can’t even talk about “fuck”
even though a third of your senior class
is pregnant.

I can’t teach an 18-year-old girl in a public school
how to use a condom that will save her life
and that of the orphan she will be forced
to give to the foster care system—
“Carlos, how many 13-year-olds do you know that are HIV-positive?”

“Honestly, none. But I do visit a shelter every Monday and talk with
six 12-year-old girls with diagnosed AIDS.”
while 4th graders three blocks away give little boys blowjobs during recess
I met an 11-year-old gang member in the Bronx who carries
a semi-automatic weapon to study hall so he can make it home
and you want me to censor my language

“Carlos, what’s genocide?”

your books leave out Emmett Till and Medgar Evers
call themselves “World History” and don’t mention
King Leopold or diamond mines
call themselves “Politics in the Modern World”
and don’t mention Apartheid

“Carlos, what’s genocide?”

you wonder why children hide in adult bodies
lie under light-color-eyed contact lenses
learn to fetishize the size of their asses
and simultaneously hate their lips
my students thought Che Guevara was a rapper
from East Harlem
still think my Mumia t-shirt is of Bob Marley
how can literacy not include Phyllis Wheatley?
schools were built in the shadows of ghosts
filtered through incest and grinding teeth
molded under veils of extravagant ritual

“Carlos, what’s genocide?”

“Roselyn, how old was she? Cuántos años tuvo tu madre cuando se murió?”

“My mother had 32 years when she died. Ella era bellísima.”

…what’s genocide?

they’ve moved from sterilizing “Boriqua” women
injecting indigenous sisters with Hepatitis B,
now they just kill mothers with silent poison
stain their loyalty and love into veins and suffocate them

…what’s genocide?

Ridwan’s father hung himself
in the box because he thought his son
was ashamed of him

…what’s genocide?

Maureen’s mother gave her
skin lightening cream
the day before she started the 6th grade

…what’s genocide?

she carves straight lines into her
beautiful brown thighs so she can remember
what it feels like to heal

…what’s genocide?
…what’s genocide?

“Carlos, what’s genocide?”

“Luz, this…
this right here…
is genocide.”



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