DON'T YOU SWAT AT A FLY
by ARIA MALLARE (United States)
Issue 2.2 August 2020
Don’t you swat at a fly.
Don’t you mindlessly shoot that harmless creature to the ground,
And don’t you carelessly sweep its soul into the trash.
Because when you show your children that a life is disposable,
You show your children to hold a gun like they hold a flyswatter.
You show them not to bat an eye
Each time an innocent body goes cold,
To turn a deaf ear to the cry “Why did you shoot me?”
"I can't breathe."
Our children know death too well as it is,
Their feet have memorized the way to daddy’s grave,
Their ears have adjusted to sleeping without mommy’s goodnight wishes,
Their shoulders have carried the weight of little coffins,
Their lips whispering to the heavens, “I love you too.”
Our children grow up learning how to wear the mask,
They grow up learning how to cover up their identities
As if they were criminals,
As if the law was out to get them.
We have learned to wear the mask,
To keep our eyes forward, fists unclenched, smiles wide,
Asking ourselves if they can smell our fear.
We have learned to say the magic words “Yes, sir,” “no, sir,” and “Thank you, sir”
In a calm and level tone,
Learned to reach slowly for our license and registration, hiding shaky hands,
Learned to comply even though we know that
We don’t have a seat at the table until we have a seat at the steering wheel,
That the star-spangled banner won’t wave over the land of the free until
liberty and justice is for all.
We live in survival mode
Because we make their skin crawl,
Because we drop like flies.
Life has always been survival of the fittest,
But don’t they know that we’re more scared of them than they are of us?
Don’t they know that they’re a million times bigger?
Don’t we matter?
Haven’t our souls grown deep like rivers, rooting us in this soil?
We have known rivers,
Rivers spilling from our eyes
And flowing into an ocean of losses.
We’ve known rivers red, pooling underneath our bodies.
We’ve known waterfalls of scars cascading from head to toe,
We have paid the tribute for everything that this country will not give us
With our blood and tears and love,
With our homes and family,
With our lives.
We have paid the price that no one else had to pay,
We have crossed too many rivers to not be able to drink a taste of freedom.
Generation after generation later
We are still waiting for America to sing for us,
Waiting for the promise of liberty and justice for all to ring true,
Because we have come too far to still be so far away.
We have dreamed.
We have led.
We have proven that “Yes, We Can.”
But we are still flies on the wall of American history.
Notes taken in the margins.
A scroll of text at the bottom of the news report but
“We shall overcome someday.”
So don’t you swat at a fly.
Show our children to soar instead of run,
To lift their voices and sing,
To hold each other’s hands instead of putting them up.
Show them that still,
In the opening stanza, the poem references Kendrec McDade’s last words, “Why did you shoot me?” Eric Garner’s, George Floyd’s, and too many others' last words, “I can't breathe,” and Sean Bell’s last words, “I love you too.”
The second stanza’s mention of wearing the mask is a reference to Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask.” The mention of sitting at the table is a reference to “I, Too” by Langston Hughes.
The third stanza references “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes and President Barack Obama’s campaign slogan, “Yes, We Can.” The last line is a reference to the song “We Shall Overcome” by Pete Seeger.
The last lines of the poem, “still we rise” are a reference to Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.”
Aria Mallare, 16, is a writer based in Chicago who dreams of living in a world where people actively listen to one another. Her African-American and Filipino heritage has given her a unique perspective and is the inspiration behind her pieces. She believes that storytelling is a superpower and hopes to spread love and truth through her writing.