Poem of the Week

An Afternoon in July

Matthew Shenoda

Thunder cracks open the July afternoon
like the throat of a frightened child.

Tethered stars let loose to a crackling sky.

The wet drooping of the fried egg tree
bowing in a sheltering
silence from another American terror.

A birdless sky flooding the hope
they love so much to speak of
drowning the Blackness of day,
sheets of rain blurring our vision.

We can almost see another way
the parable of the dead
and the green shoots of life.

We tack the perforated edges of history to our fading memories
while imagining nation in a false light.

One neighbor waves from the car,
the other from the porch,
they do not know one another.

I cannot speak to a healing steeped in fictional possibility
but I can speak of a calculation
laid bare by the entrails of history.

The rain pounds harder
and the water breaks free
the veins of the leaves rushing to a nearby stem.

An unmoored boat pushed by the stirring swells
an odd and bitter nourishment in the wake of the dead.

“What does America mean to you?”
Either I am not you, or there is no meaning.

The question itself another torrent.

And the flapping of flags;
the blood, cold, and ocean/sky.

We are drowning in that ocean
reaching for the sky.

And they claim their freedom so freely
while those who died by them,
die again.

Matthew Shenoda is the author of three poetry collections and serves as Vice President & Associate Provost for Social Equity & Inclusion and Professor of Literary Arts and Studies at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). For more information, visit www.matthewshenoda.com.
Originally published:
May 18, 2022

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