heather hughes hangs her heart in her native Miami and her current town of Somerville. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Barrow Street, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, and Whiskey Island, among others; and she is a Pushcart Prize nominee. heather is also a letterpress printer of poetry broadsides and postcards, a writer for Mass Poetry online, and an editorial associate for Scoundrel Time. She MFA-ed at Lesley University and ALM-ed at Harvard University Extension School. All her tattoos have wings.

heather hughes


I. Long before the sinking came the chanting. Long before the armaments came fear. Long before the terrible phosphorescence of the sea floor came the singular lamp that leads to the serrated pit. We haven't the light to see how we got here. We equip. We extinguish. Some men get blessings & tear gas grenades. Go forth. Certain others get occasional graves. Go.   II. Guards lack mercy & music. They tromp thru the garden of acid-white statues. Before our city sank, roses not yet memorials & our lungs unliquid, we strutted. We swelled & we swore. As befit the living. No we said no one owns a son.   III. Other nations painted pluses onto highway lines, like shields. Not us. Our warriors crossed an ocean named for a shouldered burden. Tightened obedience straps. Mumbled careful yes, sir camouflage. Our streets flashed minus, minus, minus. Water seeped thru asphalt. A world's weight is saltwater & we an afterthought. IV. convenience / ammunition To no one will assurance / smoke bomb we sell, to no placation / escalation enforced one deny submerged lockdown / black or delay, right tactical team / brown or justice routine / dead   V. Shock / distract / apocalypse attract. Law cautions restraint. Can't breathe / can't rain / can't sky. We turn down the news / show up to drown. Law demands surrender. Sons / prey. Hands / guns / names cropped from frame.   VI. We invite floods, as if to preserve the human part. As if being did not mean destructive despair. Not angels. Men with wings survive inside monsters. Light, breaking. At sunrise, we sift glass. VII. What flourishes in cultivated rage? We fortified the walls nested inside our walls. We rigged the bridges to collapse. We believe the neat division of predator and predator. What is it that thrives in our interior seas? Swallow. We hear. Swallow. We swallow.   VIII. In Atlantis concentric circles kept kings separate. Wisdom? Armed & vigilante. Sea & fire: equal ravagings. Whatever it meant it meant violently. Justice? Mud & gravemarker. In Atlantis we allow this devouring. Can't raise our dead by name. Whatever we meant we meant violently.

In the summer of 2014 when I started this poem, I was searching for ways to talk and write about the continued catastrophic police violence in the U.S., especially the casual but orchestrated institutional brutality surrounding Mike Brown's slaying — I'm still searching for various ways to do so, to keep these kinds of violations visible. I knew right away that this particular poetic engagement would be titled "Atlantis," would try to think through the ways the continent I live on is lost (I didn't know then, though I'm not surprised now, that it would require years to write and rewrite). I knew it would spiral around an old story about a country submerged and destroyed, a story that has also — like the foundational myths of U.S. history — been both romanticized and whitewashed in popular European-American culture; Atlantis, after all, is a north African empire and very much an Othered society in Plato's work, and yet in its afterlife the Atlantis myth has morphed, over time, into a Western symbol of a utopia and a paradise. I'm not sure why I initially leapt to Atlantis as a setting and metaphor for a poem that interrogates power and violence in the context of race, along with socially-received ideas about justice and the nation-state. But the parallels between the U.S. and Atlantis seemed more and more apt as I researched and wrote around different versions of the Atlantis mythos, with all its baggage and conflicting notions about that lost nation as an overly imperialistic and militaristic state punished with utter destruction for its hubris or alternately as a highly-advanced culture whose apocalypse was lamentable. How many United States of Americas are there? How many widely and wildly different stories about this country can we tell ourselves? The fractured and remixed quotes in Part IV, from the Magna Carta, and Part VIII, from "The Ethics of Elf-land" chapter in G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, anchored my conviction that even if the "we" of this poem is a shifty and troubled and complicit "we," that this had to be a choral work, that I had to try writing into some of the overlapping and contradictory and troubled permutations of "we" operating in the United States today.

Glass: A Journal of Poetry is published monthly by Glass Poetry Press.
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