Poets’ Basement

“Stand with Us”


for hunger strikers at Pelican Bay, Corcoran, Tehachapi, Folsom, Valley State Prison for Women, Centinela, San Quentin, and RJ Donovan 

May the hunger
your ghostbody spirit

its prayer
for one photo
and two packages a year


food that nourish

and heart
that experience life
in the minimum of its meaning


May our stomach anomia
what care
each twinge pain
what caress
each dizzying fall

how unknown
this growing nausea

May bloom enliven
what air long whisper
and breath long brew
how fatigue now sound

louder than no one
but the gun tower
can see into 

strong enough to cry
a stranger out in chorus


May each forced
swallow psalm
its way out
this windowless sky
eclipsed by the incessant star

May the ground
that connect you
and me
and each angry committee

to accept us
in brutal confusion

and dignity
the sandbag mouth
and lift

what hunger sound


“Stand with us” and “no one but the gun tower can see into” borrowed from July 2011 letter from hunger strikers at Corcoran’s Security Housing Unit in solidarity with hunger strikers at Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit. “experience life in the minimum of its meaning” and “angry committee” from a hunger striker at Tehachapi’s Security Housing Unit.  


Poem for Marilyn Buck

In memoriam Marilyn Buck

Dear Marilyn,

I heard the storming ululation
in this photograph we reach for
to remember your life by,
soft hearted, still seething
unprunable in today’s cyprus
flame, that still fencing shutter
turned from Lebanon’s skyward
village streets, another farewell
dance of rice and roses.

I’ve never seen a photograph
like this, snapped by a friend
walking the prisoned flower line
your courage heart so bare
so generous even mums
burst from masqueraded
feeling, each glance a reminder
to resist relegation as object
for tomorrow’s campaign.

No, we do not mourn you
of loss but in prayer that we
may carry on your steel spirit
uncaptured even by the mumstealing
corrosion of your jailers’ sarcoma.


After Marilyn Buck’s “I Saw Your Picture Today” and photograph by Mariann Wizard. 


for Melissa Roxas

If I speak for Melissa, I must speak
for L, N, and youth we do not name,
Assata, Mumia, each name ears have fought to know,
Andrea’s Osage, names stolen inside the chanting,
each stolen who’s let me hear their heartdrum
each patience, in prayer, for one kiss with truthsong,
all spirits and lovers who carry song without sound
and still dance.

Yes, I live now, the quiet fightdrum
Melissa Melissa Melissa still chanting
You shouted your name for memory still chanting
Melissa far and close still chanting
L N and youth still chanting
each purple flower, each return still chanting
Melissa Melissa Melissa still chanting
the blank license plate still chanting
Assata Mumia and MOVE still chanting
all hiding in Quezon City still chanting
Melissa far and close still chanting
each who’s lost home country still chanting
Andrea’s Osage neighbors still chanting
each ghost still not safe to name is chanting

Let us be this fightdrum still chanting
each Kuya, help me still chanting
each decline to comment still chanting
Melissa’s camera memory still chanting
ghost of dead lovers still chanting
showing signs of torture still chanting
medicine for this break still chanting
language evaporate at gunpoint still chanting
stretch and pull each mask still chanting
each door forced open, each left ajar still chanting
each stomach caressing ground still chanting
each muscle fight back still chanting
Melissa’s Flame to the Body still chanting
each Foot that Bleeds Black still chanting
each Incipient Wing that can’t fly still chanting
military gone to hide still chanting
each inch tape, each knotted blindfold still chanting
sinking each handcuff’s clasp still chanting
temperature their rifles still chanting
each bomb, each fire, each time still chanting
each death and resurrection still chanting
Melissa’s compas inside still chanting

each rib, each palm stronger than cages still chanting
each breath you stole for rest, each whisper a campaign still chanting
each poem that speaks later, each truthsong before Night Comes still chanting
each window of sky, each freedom found in village arms still chanting
each knowing eye, each kind gesture still chanting
each movement til empire fall, each rest in love still chanting
gathering this rebel heartdrum still chanting
all this music poetry still chanting

Yes, you live, Melissa,
song of truth rising,
your music is chanting. 


An offering alongside chorus of Kundimans by Asian American poets bearing witness to Melissa Roxas’ abduction and torture in the Philippines on May 19, 2009, after after Illya Kaminsky and Ruth Forman.

“Kuya, help me” is from Melissa’s affidavit signed May 29, 2009, Quezon City, Philippines. The rest of the italicized text is from a poem Melissa conceived and memorized during her abduction. “each death and resurrection” refers to “I will learn to Die / a Thousand Times / and Be Resurrected” in Melissa’s May 19, 2009 poem.

“You shouted your name for memory” from Ching-In Chen’s “Elegy for a Blindfold,” also a Kundiman for Melissa.

Vanessa Huang is a poet, writer, and community organizer whose practice draws on a history of collaboration with and teachings from the prison abolition, migrant justice, gender liberation, transformative justice, disability justice, and reproductive justice movements.  Vanessa’s poetry manuscript quiet of chorus was named a finalist for Poets & Writers’ 2010 California Writers Exchange Award.  A Macondo and Kundiman fellow, Vanessa lives in Oakland, California and also works as a consultant for social justice organizations. She can be reached through her website: http://vanessahuang.com.

Editorial Note: (Please Read Closely Before Submitting)

To submit to Poets’ Basement, send an e-mail to CounterPunch’s poetry editor, Marc Beaudin at counterpunchpoetry@gmail.com with your name, the titles being submitted, and your website url or e-mail address (if you’d like this to appear with your work).  Also indicate whether or not your poems have been previously published and where.  For translations, include poem in original language and documentation of granted reprint/translation rights.  Attach up to 5 poems and a short bio, written in 3rd person, as a single Word Document (.doc or .rtf attachments only; no .docx).  Expect a response within one month (occasionally longer during periods of heavy submissions).

Poems accepted for online publication will be considered for possible inclusion of an upcoming print anthology.

For more details, tips and suggestions, visit CrowVoiceJournal.blogspot.com and check the links on the top right. Thanks!

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