This poem was written for and performed at Injustice Watch’s #SpreadTheWord poetry event on April 22. Artists were asked to write a poem inspired by one of Injustice Watch’s stories. This piece was inspired by Jonah Newman’s 2020 story, Former U. Chicago student, shot by police, has COVID-19 symptoms in Cook County jail.
take those chains off that child. take those chains off that Light of life,
HIS life – ain’t yours to hold. ain’t yours to hold inside, though you’ve tried.
I often imagine the imprisoned in their freest
form at birth given a glow their own
he wasn’t a mere child when he came, Charles
his pamper dripping the gold of back porch survival
nothing in his body unpure. we met him alive after one April
evening cancelled quiet cancelled study cancelled school safety
a few shattered windows, and a welfare check on a sick day turned
an officer’s bullet- gave him blood. time stopped and slowed.
they didn’t think he’d come back to us. after the felony became
his skin after the first night he didn’t die and was punished
the second time, the field smelled his blood remembering the bullet
found him sitting in the soft lap of structured hatred. fleeing the trap
set before him. that suffering September left his hope trembling and nude.
is there a doctor? give him a bullet, perhaps his mother? incarcerate him
this son, of people who could fly. made by his city, an invisible man –
like the others after health centers were closed and budgets cut.
see him held without bail for being alive. caged when he couldn’t
caged. kllled. cage kills. we could. kill the cage.
Don’t you know?
don’t you know the inside is meant to suffocate spirit?
every cell shaped to starve unprotected breath. pre- pandemic.
pre – last election
I heard they let Charles go the other day. wrapped his release
on his birthdate like a gift. like freedom was ever theirs to take.
we won’t celebrate. as the earth battles a new sick. we fight for full
breath – still – count the hundreds of thousands like him – inside
as others liken their homes to jails and prisons. we don’t receive it.
we who love freedom and just methods
we, who organize for health and fair treat
ment when being human isn’t enough
may we return to birth. to being
too spiritual in song too mouthy for death
and resurrecting all
the ones thought defeated
may we raise voice when they cage our undying.
when they strike the match and burn our freedom slow.
may our superherose be homegrown carrying
no kryptonite call to sacrifice their purposed lives.
may nothing in us give a single child to this jim crow’s mouth
each body a soil of holy worth, fashioned rock solid saint.
I think of Charles and see him from infancy, see every weaned
warrior raised to holler. to feed and cry.
each coo a call to action a revolution’s whistle.
Itohan Osaigbovo is a Chicago native originally from the Austin neighborhood, raised primarily in neighboring Oak Park. Itohan has been performing poetry & song publicly for about 18 years. Her work has dealt primarily with healing from personal trauma, religion/spirituality, confronting oppression, and advocating for radical social change. She’s currently writing about systemic racism’s influence on the black immigrant family experience through the lens of domestic violence. She is a first-year MFA-Poetry student at Columbia College Chicago.