Social Justice Poetry

unscrupulous politicians

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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Should the Subaltern Speak… | A Social Justice Poem by Krushna Chandra Mishra

On seeing them speaking
after years looking askance at them
and thinking they could for eternity make
bread out of lies made of the best yarns
culled from garments they were never
given to wear; they saw clad
and speaking in demanding tones
those very people whose custodians
they had become, and sensing fear
from those multitudes whom they
bullied and misrepresented for long;
now in search of new rhetoric,
these vultures and jackals are out
to find unity they now find lost
in misleading the world and
now having nowhere to
be safely led into for ease
of business and of living.

Puppet Master of Hate | A Social Justice Poem by G. Louis Heath

He pulls the strings of hate, lives in the forest
In a shotgun cabin without a pillow for love.

He pays out twine, marinated in poison, as into
The Minotaur’s maze, to numb minds below.

He knows how to tangle viperous string into
Cortical realms, neurons fizzing to be strung.

His power fomented from the upcountry baffles
Pundits, his legerdemain refreshing poison in

Marionette skulls unseen. At last he throws his
Hands up in victory, “Look Mom! No strings!”