Poem of the Week | June 28, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Dear Auden” by Ellen June Wright!

Ellen June Wright was born in England of West Indian parents and immigrated to the United States as a child. She attended school in New Jersey and taught high-school language arts for three decades. She has had the honor of working as a consulting teacher on the guides for three PBS poetry series called Poetry Haven, Fooling with Words and the Language of Life. Her work has most recently been published in River Mouth Review, Santa Fe Writers Project, New York Quarterly Magazine, The Elevation Review, The Caribbean Writer and is forthcoming in Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora. She was a finalist in the Gulf Stream 2020 summer poetry contest and is a founding member of Poets of Color virtual poetry workshop in New Jersey. She also studies writing at the Hudson Valley Writers Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

 

Dear Auden,

Of suffering the old Masters were so right. Suffering’s an individual thing. People go about their daily chores as someone drowns just out of sight. No murmur heard. Except, now a man dies dozens of times. We hear his forsaken cry in our living rooms. We behave as though we don’t know what we are seeing as a man falls unconscious—his invisible spirit rises, leaves him. We pretend we don’t know what we are seeing when death happens before our eyes. Thank God for those Samaritans who stopped on the way to buy candy, on the way to the gym, or dully walking home from work and stood on the curb and refused to move. Thank God for teenagers with camera phones. Thank God for those who pleaded for a stranger’s humanity, who begged for compassion, who bore witness, who testified of needless martyrdom. Thank God for those who stopped their ordinary lives, their common errands on the way somewhere not as important as the man pinned down in the street like a hunter’s kill, life ebbing, disappearing. Thank God for those who did not look away.

 

Author’s Note

As I watched the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer accused and convicted of causing George Floyd’s death, I was struck by how ordinary people — men, women, younger people, older people going about their everyday lives — took the time to recognize a stranger’s humanity and were courageous enough to speak to a person in authority and let him know that what he was doing was wrong. They risked being arrested or worse, but the life of a stranger was paramount. They saw suffering and tried to do something about it. I thought perhaps Auden’s assessment of our humanity was incomplete. Maybe, under the right circumstances, not everyone sails calmly on when they see tragedy. Some people, some very special people, stop and try to intervene. They say no. This is wrong. They bear witness as they record a video and upload it on social media. They change the world in their small but significant way.

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