Poetry: I Can’t Breathe: When They Come As They Must by Jonathan Andrew Pérez

Jonathan Andrew Pérez’s lates is a poem for “another hot summer.” With prophetic spirit, “When They Come as They Must” delivers a rallying call for the seething, the unheard.

I Can’t Breathe: When They Come As They Must

When they come, they are seething. In Tulsa,
in Minneapolis, in Ferguson these disposed streets,
maximum insecurity. These Mayors, who riot with police.
These Legislators, the old Guard protect their profiteering, policing.

When they come, as they must. In the muddy earth, under muddy
skies. When whooping crane imprint the uprooted forest.
When days before children, men who are poets, race to language.
Get their voices unheard. Cannot afford a short stint.

When they come, as they must. By curfew, by twenty-four hours.
By gleaming enraged badges, the rancor of the LA streets, 1992,
when the foul heat browed from the forehead of a declaration of another hot summer.
Riots are the voices of the unheard, ripped from the right side of history.

When they come, as they must, we sent a postcard back home,
unrepaired, to a family that never existed. To tree-lined streets with educators,
that never lobbied the school system to scratch Mesopotamia for the scab of America.
Maybe it is the smell of my grandmother’s scarf, when she died in the hospital without insurance

Maybe it is the glass ceiling of my civil rights, that keep the words from forming.
When we come as we must: the light of cities across boulevards spark disenfranchised unity
and in the DNA of the question: when will history stop repeating itself*

is the simple premise, why is American brutality unrepentant, we come as we must.



*Taken from the Spike Lee short film by the same name “When Will History Stop Repeating Itself” is the opening line of Spike Lee’s “3 Brothers” linked to George Floyd, Eric Garner, and the character, Radio Raheem from Do The Right Thing, released June 1, 2020.



Jonathan Andrew Perez

Jonathan Andrew Pérez has published poetry most recently in POETRY Magazine, River Heron Review, Guesthouse, Fractured Lit, Hayden's Ferry Review, Bloodtree Literature, The Florida Review’s Latinx Issue, Split Lip Magazine, Mud Season Review, Prelude online, Dovecote, The Westchester Review, Projector Magazine – Barnhouse, Rigorous, Track//Four, & Watermelanin (the latter three dedicated to BIPOC poets) – Esthetic Apostle, Cape Cod Review, Cold Mountain Review’s Justice Issue, Prelude Online, the Hawai’i Review Dedicated to Indigenous & Black Resistance, Rise Up Review!, The Chicago Quarterly, Tulane Review, Collateral, Dovecote, Rumble Fish Quarterly & The Bookend’s Review Best of 2019, among elsewhere. In 2019 he was awarded first place for the poetry prize by Split Lip Magazine. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart. He teaches a class on Poetic Justice: Race, Law, and Poetry at Wesleyan University. March 2020, his chapbook was released, The Cartographer of Crumpled Maps: The Justice Elegies. He has a day job as an attorney in criminal social justice.

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