once i’ve seen

I see them consuming our pain

Bite after bite, like it’s an appetizing kernel of the popcorn in their hands

Taking in the stories of our youth, our desperation, our devastation of opportunity

Like they’re candy

I’m sitting here, thinking to myself,

These are the stories of poverty, of pain,

The stories that can become happy endings with

Investments in education, opportunity,

Valuing culture, life, love

And I look around and see


Blissful in their separation from a reality

The silver screen a portal keeping them from feeling, seeing, smelling, choking on what they see

I can’t breathe

(too anthemic to speak those words on their own…)

I can’t breathe as I leave the theater

A young man’s blood pouring from his face

Into my lungs

Drowning me in his life

Drowning me in his life

I can’t swim to escape this

His desperation reflects in the eyes of every street dweller I pass


With brown eyes like mine

Black hair like mine

Cocoa-mocha-chocolate-whatever-you-wanna-call-it euphemistic skin like mine


And I can’t unsee it


Not the film

Not the reality

Not the drowning

I can’t unsee it…

…and I can’t unsee the flags

The flags flying high above the crowd

Heralding all those near and far

to the violence not near but far

Far away in that other land called Africa

Where the brothers and sisters of those mocha street dwellers

Die a different kind of death

Green, yellow, red

A banner that once hearkened a warm, but distant sense of home

Now burns as it flies

Aflame with the passions of a people

A people tired of dying and living as the dead

Arms crossed, raised over my head, our heads

A rebellion against death has begun

A resurrection of sorts

I am dying

Drowning in the blood of the near

Burning in the passions of the far

And helpless to unsee each

How do you unsee this?

I choke as I breathe, first on blood then on smoke

And I ask, what does respite look like?

What does it look like to be a free Black woman,

Black citizen of this world,

Where neither the blood of this country

Nor the flames of the next

Consume you?

To feel this is to begin to die

To not feel this is to certainly have died,

Killed the empathy, the heart, the soul of oneself

And to consume, as an appetizing kernel of popcorn

The misery of our world

I lack a Lens quite as clear as this

Neither the camera lens

Nor the magnifying glass

Nor the two eyes in my own head

Can show me grief

Like this Lens has





What does it look like to be a free Black woman?

By Abigail Mariam

I'm a reader and a writer. Currently showcasing black voices. SoCal => Harvard => Oakland. Working in local government. Empowering and empowered by the people of the Bay Area, in the areas of homelessness, community development, and political action.