Social Justice Poetry

Anna Kander

White Lie | A Social Justice Poem by Anna Kander

wave it like a white flag, surrendering

with handshakes and smiles
so *civil*

project upon it red and blue patriotism

stars like ordnance exploding
stripes like prison bars

(truth, held captive)

parade it like a memory

celebrating men who slaughtered brothers
to enslave

(sense, held captive)

whisper, like wind whipping fabric:

the emperor’s new flag still has no colors

whisper, like rending garments:

the problem is not one man, elected
the problem is a tyrannous minority who sustains him
the problem is small men chasing votes

stuffing our futures
like paper scraps into ballot boxes

(humanity, held captive)

wave the white lie, blank as a black screen

like electronic voting machines swallowing code
returning unverifiable results

the next war will not be civil

Blue | A Social Justice Poem by Anna Kander

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets!

Blue-chip companies take their name from the color of the highest-valued chips at poker tables on October 28, 1929.

(we’re reliable, all-American, safe)

Then comes October 29, 1929: the day the stock markets crash.

Then comes October 30, 2009: me, new to a minimum-wage custodial crew, learning that the most important thing, when you clean the headquarters of a multibillion-dollar corporation, is the executive washroom.

The questions are not: Are floors swept? Are counters and toilets clean?

The real questions are: Is the trash empty, even if there were only three paper towels in the bin?

(they don’t want to see trash)

Did you wipe away any fingerprints left when you opened the shiny chrome stall doors?

(they want you to be invisible)

And, is the water in the toilet bowl a reassuring, disinfectant-blue?

No? We’ve no time. They don’t pay us enough to stay any longer. Night janitors got to hustle to the next job.

Just spritz some blue in there, let’s go.

(they don’t want to see)

(they’ll never know)

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American Rattlesnake | A Social Justice Poem by Anna Kander

“A federal investigation found that deputies had used stun guns on prisoners already strapped into a ‘restraint chair.’ The family of one man who died after being forced into the restraint chair was awarded more than six million dollars… The family of another man killed in the restraint chair got $8.25 million… after the discovery of a surveillance video that showed fourteen guards beating, shocking, and suffocating the prisoner, and after THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE WAS ACCUSED OF DISCARDING EVIDENCE, INCLUDING THE CRUSHED LARYNX OF THE DECEASED.”

(Evidence against former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, pardoned by President Trump on August 25, 2017, as reported by Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker.)


the American rattlesnake is shedding its skin
revealing another layer

sticky with newness and sharp-edged with scales
the same, deathless serpent

brown-on-brown like a Western Diamondback

with each molt, the snake adds a segment to its rattle
sloughing skin into wads of dead keratin

dragging shed skins like history or taken scalps


from 1993–2016, in Maricopa County, Arizona
Sheriff Joe Arpaio reigned

proclaimed his jail a “concentration camp”
in his custody, a hundred men died

on surveillance video, Scott Norberg slurs, dehydrated
barely conscious, strapped to a “restraint chair”

as fourteen police officers
shock, beat, and suffocate him to death

the good ol’ sheriff excused them all
and now the president has pardoned the sheriff

when lawyers started to investigate Scott’s death
the sheriff seized Scott’s body

the evidence of abuse—Scott’s crushed larynx


a larynx, also called a voice box
resembles a rattle segment

pyramidal and hollow
without them, you can’t make a sound


picture them: larynxes
strung like rattles

pieces of victims
clattering after a car like tin cans

someone celebrating
a marriage of evil and convenience

mr. and mr. and mr. complicit:

Joe and Donny
Mitch and Ryan

maybe back to Adam
a circle of snakes

in business suits and fig leaves
paired with red power ties

red, like apples
and slithering on pinstripes

or slipping from breathless bodies
like leather restraints


imagine—me, the serpent

surviving years between meals
you can’t starve me out

horses and cattle know:
you will have to trample me

your voices like rattles

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