I AM FONG LEE

I AM FONG LEE

Animate an arrow on a map.
Imbued with all of the cultural sensitivity
of an Indiana Jones movie.

Launch in lush Laotian jungle,
cross continents and seas,
and split
like the forked tongue
of a serpent,
or a dragon,
upon reaching the Mississippi.

One end lands in Minneapolis,
calls itself Fong Lee,
and falls, one weekend
outside an elementary school
on the beleaguered North Side.

No saint, this Fong Lee,
or maybe he was,
or maybe it doesn’t matter,
when chased on a bike
by cops in a squad car.

When rammed, run down,
when running like hell isn’t enough.

When shot eight times.

And a gun recovered later
has no prints,
no bullets fired.
Official reports attribute it
to the late Fong Lee.

The arrow’s other end
lands in Saint Paul,
on my roster.
This Fong Lee is quiet,
yet alive.

His shirt reads “I AM FONG LEE”

Poetry and politics,
Shakespeare and Espada,
and who knows if Fong
has read either man’s work?

This one gets the joke
because he tells it,
but forgive his lack of laughter:
There’s nothing funny
about having to know
that some kid with your moniker
and migratory history
was killed by cops
not fifteen miles away.

Indiana Jones only had snakes
and caricatures of Nazis
to contend with.
This shit is for real.

An animated arrow splits in two,
dead ends,
but cannot retract.
It must remain,
A red stain on a map. 

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Voter ID

This isn’t the most lyrical poem I’ve ever written, that’s for sure, but as the debate about Voter ID rages on (it’s on the ballot as a constitutional amendment in MN this year), I wanted to get at what I think the real problem is: racism.  Communities of color came out for Barack Obama in record numbers in 2008, and I think that there are some who would cynically move to do whatever they can to prevent a repeat of this in 2012, making those same communities pawns, once again, in a game they didn’t consent to playing.  Like a lot of racism, this is of the unexamined variety — voter ID advocates would never make the connection between redlining and the proposed amendment (after all, it isn’t Obama’s skin color they don’t like, just his politics, and I have to say that I believe their sincerity in this) yet there it is, an attempt to further disenfranchise groups of people based on skin color and a socioeconomic status that is directly linked to policies of the past (e.g. redlining).  This kind of historical amnesia is very dangerous for our country.

Voter ID

We’re standing on maps left behind by our grandfathers,
covered in red lines and promises of financial solvency.
We’re the architects of a grand plan all our own.

We’ll make a man out of straw and call him voter fraud.
Ask him for identification – what’s the harm in that?
If he doesn’t have it, we deny the vote,
light him up as an example to others.

Use the maps to get it going –
we don’t need them anymore.

Behold, arms outstretched in supplication,
a burning beacon in the night,
a cross to light the way.

These are times of values.

Of course, that’s far too scathing a critique.
After all, we were very careful not to identify
those most likely not to have identification.
We never said anything
about poverty,
or transience,
or skin color,
or people groups voting in record numbers,

Electing the country’s first black president,
by a landslide.

That’s not what this is about.
We just want to make sure we know who you are.

What’s the harm in that?