987: Totalitarian

987: Totalitarian

987: Totalitarian


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

The outbreak of the Israel-Hamas War generated widespread outrage across the globe. In no uncertain terms, many decried the horrific and unimaginable violence Hamas perpetrated against Israeli citizens. And many railed against Israel’s retaliatory bombings of communities in Gaza, and its punitive denial of electricity, water, and food to Palestinians. In social media posts, videos, and group texts, I heard righteous indignation. I heard passionate pleas for justice, but most of all I heard a palpable grief befall upon humanity, a deep sorrow at the loss of life in both Israel and Gaza.

We exist in that collective suffering, in the images of homes turned into mountains of rubble, in drone images of blood darkening below body bags, in the footage of children, women, and the elderly hurriedly fleeing, all their belongings in tow, from another theater of war. As one friend said, these horrors make the body and bones heavy. It hijacks any belief in the notion of reason and seizes the mind and tongue.

As with any conflict, many people are calling for announcements of allegiance and moral outrage on anyone’s behalf. In the midst of rightful pleadings for collective action, for protest, which will come, I want to give space for and honor those who are processing their grief and educating themselves on these histories. Those who are determining how they should be in the world right now as caring and informed citizens. I don’t think silence always means complicity. Sometimes it means, for me, a need to find my way through the heavy bands of daily life and discord in order to access my voice, which will also come.

Today’s poem makes the case that there are occasions in which I cannot let apathy rule, that the assaults on human dignity are so large, I must speak through my stunned witnessing.

by Tyler Mills

I put my elbows on a round table painted like a chessboard.
Someone orders almond milk instead of cream. At the border,
children still sleep in cages. The State justifies this like a margin—
swift, organized. I think of half a V
of Canada geese. How they can straighten into a line.
Separate in our despair, we stare downward into our hands
as though we hold mirrors there. Can you hear the mesh 
caught with little fingers? Baby’s breath
snows into bouquets at high school graduations. Soon
summer reunions, anniversaries, back to school.
But they are still there, still there. I lift my phone to my ear
like a conch and speak my dissent.
I once collected snails at low tide. All the lungs drowned 
in my fuchsia bucket. Hades, I made.
Old stories shift like clouds and resettle around me.
Protest anthems play the speakers in this hot room.
Someone talks about soccer. Someone wants to know
how her organic soap is selling. This is a café
in America. Where children sleep shoulder to shoulder
in kennels. Then no one talks
about them, and it is as though they disappear.
Let it be known: When it first happened, we said
nothing much to one another. Not enough after. In some holy texts,
angels come to earth. A child cries so hard
for his mother he grows little wings.
The feathers cut through his heart. Only he can see
or feel them. His mother has been sent away, or killed. Her health
is an absence now, in the desert. A place the wind mourns.

"Totalitarian" by Tyler Mills. Originally published in Kenyon Review. Used by permission of the poet.