slowing down / ghazal for Jemel Roberson / borderlands (three poems)

slowing down

do it quickly
start doing the thing
you sprouted from your mother’s womb
to do. there’s a reason we’re called the human
race, this life is only so long, every minute gone is
one minute less to spend on this earth, to

do it quickly
but perhaps the thing
the reason my toes met the earth
my purpose
is to slow down
breathe in
breathe out
notice the way my ankle
meets my foot
with wonder, and the shape
of the clouds and the
color of bread, the bread
from my father’s
sourdough starter
which he got
from his mother
and she got
from hers

do it quickly
doesn’t work with bread
you have to
sit back
let it rise
breathe in the warm air
imagine my great grandmother
shaping a loaf,
flour on her nose
scooping aside a bit
to save for next time
for her children
and their children
and me

patiently, patiently
set it in a warm place
let the yeast do the work
read a book
marvel at the smell of your tea
and if your eyes droop from the weight
of Sunday afternoon sunshine,
if it is time to fall asleep
do not hesitate to
do it quickly

ghazal for Jemel Roberson

they say he was the quintessential “good guy
with a gun” but that didn’t stop him from dying

allow me to be more specific, that didn’t stop them from
shooting him, we have an epidemic, black men are still dying

at rates that terrify and confuse because we refuse to address 400 years
of institutionalized racism, and here I am on the floor dying

from caustic laughter because all I hear is:
but Obama was president, so doesn’t that mean racism is dying

tell it to Jemel’s son, and his mother, and the officer that shot
and the near lack of warning that Jemel got before dying

does the still-anonymous officer know his training or his humanity
failed him that day, did he stop to look at the blood dying

the ground by his feet? Did Jemel wonder what he did wrong
in the final heartbeats between being shot and dying?


a collection of voices

the deer are lost, you see them out there wandering around
they used to cross back and forth all the time…

even the deer are lost, with their
delicate wild senses
twitching ears and taut muscles
created precisely for this landscape
where the only alien
is the wall

borders are sad now
there used to be so much coming and going…
now it’s so militarized and sad

the earth weeps
with each human being forced into the desert
a landscape never intended for us

the world shudders
with each human body
needlessly broken

dreams of something better
eroded to dust and sand

I don’t think nobody wants to leave their homelands

and yet sometimes their homelands
won’t allow them
to stay

What borders mean to me… I can go there
but they can’t come here

on one side of the wall, barbed wire
motion sensors
men with guns and fear in their eyes

on one side of the wall, murals
bright splashing colors
a tent full of people with hope in their eyes

I try not to speak with an accent…
there’s a hierarchy

what are we so afraid of?

I think there’s plenty to go around
some people have everything and want more
we’re causing these problems in other countries and benefitting from it

if you had to leave your home forever
what would you put in your backpack?

hands trembling
heartbeat in your ears
you take what you can and leave what you must

after days or weeks or months
you arrive, feet swollen with blisters

to a country swollen with resources
that tells you to go back
where you came from

just imagine

I wish we would do a little more than pray


About the Author

Elizabeth Nisly

Elizabeth Nisly is a senior writing studies and Spanish double major at Eastern Mennonite University. She loves to find the ways her two areas of study can intersect and feed each other.