Poem of the Week | February 22, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “o god let me be soft” by Marlin M. Jenkins!

Marlin M. Jenkins was born and raised in Detroit and currently lives in Minnesota. The author of the poetry chapbook Capable Monsters (Bull City Press, 2020) and a graduate of University of Michigan’s MFA program, his work has found homes with Indiana Review, The Rumpus, Waxwing, and Kenyon Review Online, among others. You can find him online at marlinmjenkins.com.


o god let me be soft

            “Brunei implements stoning to death under anti-LGBT laws”
                        – headline, BBC News, April 3, 2019

o god let me be soft
to the man’s touch       to his gentle
entering       so soft that when
we are found the stones bounce off
my skin and land on the soft ground
your godly face splitting the soft
clouds with soft light       the men
aghast       the men at last the ones
themselves afraid       (though of course
we know it was their fear all along)
the men convinced i’m so soft
i must be a ghost       let me gently
pick up the stones       so many stones
i build us a new home       i take
these pieces of earth made violent
through the wind and use them
to craft shelter       a new space in which we
can softly love       o god       what
am i saying       in this country
i would not be stoned       o god
i am not certain even of that truth
we know the stones are symbols
even when the stones are also stones
let me be so soft the holes they’ve
left in me are covered from my melting
so soft i barely dent the bed
around the world we die       and at home
we die       and there are many ways
to be made dead       i know       i am so
privileged and so afraid       these walls
are hard enough to stop stones
but not bullets       this neck not strong
enough to stop a rope       these walls
between me and the abomination
even those who say they love me
think i am       even if
they would never say it
to my face       the walls are symbols
especially when they are also walls
o god let me be so soft that those
who don’t know what to do with me
just leave me
the hell alone       o god if it would help
take all my bones and make them
into armor for every queer person
in brunei       except the teeth
if they were to be dropped
into the sultan’s drink
if they would be sharp stones slipping
into the soft flesh of his throat
if his rigidness has turned him brittle
then let the swallowed teeth be enough
to make him break


Author’s Note

I love to think about how my poems live within a lineage and community, and this poem feels very much in the community of fellow poets (and dear friends) Carlina Duan and Katie Willingham. I’ve learned so much from both of them—through conversation and their examples—about how softness is not weakness, about how beautiful and sacred tenderness and care and vulnerability can be.

When I saw the headlines about Brunei’s laws about queer sex in spring 2019, I was first afraid and heartbroken, but I wanted to lean into the care at the center of that fear instead of letting despair turn my response only to pain and hate.

I admit: the poem makes me nervous because it’s responding to a national context I have no direct tie to, but I wanted that context to be a part of the poem: how do we navigate multiple co-existing truths, feelings, and contexts, acknowledging our limitations as we reach toward a better, safer world: one where softness and fierceness co-exist, and strengthen each other, and protect us and our people.