Social Justice Poetry

empathy poems

On an Accumulation of Small Observations | A Social Justice Poem by Cate Gable

For Neil

Culture, the water we swim in, and some version
of the future aggregated by clues—that brand name
on a shirt, straight white teeth, an iPhone versus flip—
keeps us in place, as the children lining up for school
in Kanazawa knew just where they stood,
who was above/below. Ijeoma Uluo, whose name
is melody, spoke about race as we wriggled in our seats.
Of course we want to do what’s right, what’s fair
yet our privilege separates. Being white
how do we feel each slight, each wound to Blacks
more murderous than the last? We’re wrong, we’re
rich, we’re deaf to deafness, blind to blindness,
trapped. Let the oceans inundate, let flies
suck at our lips, and I will know to take
your hand, fall down beside you in prayer.

November 9 | A Social Justice Poem by Leah Mond

Crestfallen, we stomped out boots over the crunchy leaves and down the steps into the subway tunnels where grieving commuters tuned out a little more than usual today

I thought I heard Mother Earth say “In some ways, she’d be just as bad anyway” as evidenced by the strange sunlight of this strange November day. “She did this too, in some kind of way…”

And I don’t like to argue with Mother Earth, but the day before I had to tell her “A flood is gonna come if I don’t make this strange sunlight go away”

So I sat down on the part of this walk that makes sense to me, where the beaten-up harbor smells like the sea. It’s where I usually go to get clarity – but that day? So scared of the blood, he took the wind right out of me.

“But you can swim and handle the wind” she whispers as the tide comes in.”

Yes, it’s true, I know how to swim. But it was others who’d sink as the tide came in.

And though I am the one who doesn’t need to sun every day
The plants, they will die if you take it away!

And, then, the sweet Mother Earth that once cradled me when I was ill
Disappeared with the wind and I was forced to be still

The clouds blocked the sun and the beams went away
And the shine on the harbor went from blue to gray

And it was 8:55 so we headed to the ship
Latinas and Muslims and LGBT folks in the mix
In shock, you’d wonder if we were indifferent to it
But the wind hit us harder than we’d like to admit

And it wasn’t until I left the embrace of the mother
That I approached the crowded boat with my sisters and brothers
Me light, them dark, we were separated at birth
As it rained on their crops and I drank from the Earth

I drank from the Earth, having no idea
The frenzy that floods cause for the people I see here

Here in the city that stole me from trees
Where I learned from others how to master the breeze

I breathed in their struggles, I stood in their trains
Until I could no longer swallow water, knowing how much they get screwed when it rains

So I am now on this boat with the gardeners and their weeds
It’s a dreary ride with an oppressive breeze
And I lock eyes with a woman, she’s darker than me
The fear. We connect. I finally see what she sees.

Wishful | A Social Justice Poem by Langley Shazor

Where are we?
In this place
This space
This life
This existence
Do we stand to be snuffed out
By our own well-doing
Or does doing well
Bring us life?
Does it matter to those
Who don’t mind
Or to those whose mind
Only matters in ways
Of self-righteousness?
Can we find ourselves
Free ourselves
Love ourselves
That we may love others?
This is hope
This is faith
This is what we strive for
Or are we merely dreaming?

A Piece of Fruit Every Morning | A Social Justice Poem by Donal Mahoney

This morning Len sections his breakfast orange
with the knife he bought in Paris 40 years ago
on his honeymoon. He bought it from a vendor

at a street market selling every kind of knife,
beautiful creations he said he made at home.
Len no longer has that wife but he uses

the knife every morning to cut up his fruit
of the day. It might be a grapefruit, apple,
a melon in season but usually an orange.

Len never thinks about his first wife
but he remembers the blind beggar
sitting on a mat near the stand

pleading for a coin to buy bread
for breakfast as Len and his knife
rushed past to catch up with his wife.

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