Poetry

“recipe for a massacre: tulsa 1921” by Quraysh Ali Lansana

Captured Negros on Way to Convention Hall During Tulsa Race Riot 1921

I.

ingredients:
one economically and culturally thriving black community, the most vibrant of its kind in the world. before harlem renaissanced. where at sunrise a dollar journeyed from greenwood & archer to pine & back at sunset through thirty-six blocks of black hands, black labor, black love on the black side of town.

one fourteen-year-old state that was point of origin & repository for the nation’s earliest & largest ethnic cleansing actions that named jim crow attorney general (in defiance of the president) & the ku klux klan its supreme court.

a racism that suspends all rational judgment.

a stumble in an elevator. a scream of rape from sarah page. a jail, dick rowland, for your protection. a lynch mob. a defense mob. a gunshot. hate. a gunshot. hate. a deputizing of hundreds. a machine gun on standpipe hill. a dropping of bombs from chartered planes. a burning. little africa on fire. a marching at gunpoint. three internment camps. three-hundred dead in the ruins of their own prosperity.

 

II.

and we can’t find the sun
six thousand limping from mcnulty
park, convention hall & fairgrounds
pray on just a little while longer
past our smoldering dreamland
past madame cj’s & tulsa star
past doctor jackson’s & vernon a.m.e.
toward the ghosts of our homes
front stairs to nowhere but tarred sky

 

III.

add a terrance crutcher. a trayvon martin. a philando castile. a bullet for your protection. a columbine. a sandy hook. a stoneman-douglass. an ar-15 for your protection. a dude in las vegas with an arsenal larger than the armory in enid. a nra for your protection. a nobel prize winning scientist. a bell curve. an iowa senator’s lips. a dodge challenger on fourth street in charlottesville. a unite the right rally for your protection. a dylan storm roof at prayer service. a prayer. a prayer. a prayer.

he who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. he who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it, king said.

 

IV.

stir.

 

Quraysh Ali Lansana is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently The Skin of Dreams: New and Selected Poems 1995-2018 (Calliope Group 2019). A former faculty member of both the Writing Program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Drama Division of The Juilliard School, Lansana served as Director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University and was an Associate Professor of English/Creative Writing. His work Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy & Social Justice in Classroom & Community (with Georgia A. Popoff) was a 2012 NAACP Image Award nominee. His most recent books include The Whiskey of Our Discontent: Gwendolyn Brooks as Conscience and Change Agent, with Georgia A. Popoff (Haymarket Books, 2017) and The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip Hop with Kevin Coval and Nate Marshall (Haymarket Books, 2015). Lansana’s work appears in Best American Poetry 2019, and he was recently named a Tulsa Artist Fellow.


Image: “Captured Negros on Way to Convention Hall – During Tulsa Race Riot, June 1st, 1921,” postcard from DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University digital image collection.