Tapestry of Faith: Exploring Our Values Through Poetry: A Program for High School Youth

Handout 3: Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person, Could Believe in the War Between Races

"Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe in the War Between Races" is from Emplumada, by Lorna Dee Cervantes, copyright 1982. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

In my land there are no distinctions.

The barbed wire politics of oppression

have been torn down long ago. The only reminder

of past battles, lost or won, is a slight

rutting in the fertile fields.

In my land

people write poems about love,

full of nothing but contented childlike syllables.

Everyone reads Russian short stories and weeps.

There are no boundaries.

There is no hunger, no

complicated famine or greed.

I am not a revolutionary.

I don't even like political poems.

Do you think I can believe in a war between the races?

I can deny it. I can forget about it

when I'm safe,

living on my own continent of harmony

and home, but I am not


I believe in revolution

because everywhere the crosses are burning,

sharp-shooting goose-steppers round every corner,

there are snipers in the schools...

(I know you don't believe this,

You think this is nothing

but faddish exaggeration. But they

are not shooting at you.)

I'm marked by the color of my skin.

The bullets are discrete and designed to kill slowly.

They are aiming at my children.

These are facts.

Let me show you my wounds: my stumbling mind, my

"excuse me" tongue, and this

nagging preoccupation

with the feeling of not being good enough.

These bullets bury deeper than logic.

Racism is not intellectual.

I cannot reason these scars away.

Outside my door

there is a real enemy

who hates me.

I am a poet

who yearns to dance on rooftops,

to whisper delicate lines about joy

and the blessings of human understanding.

I try. I go to my land, my tower of words and

bolt the door, but the typewriter doesn't fade out

the sounds of blasting and muffled outrage.

My own days bring me slaps on the face.

Every day I am deluged with reminders

that this is not

my land

and this is my land.

I do not believe in the war between the races.

but in this country

there is war.