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National Poetry Slam
August 2014 Oakland, California
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Litany for Dictatorship 
with regards to Stephen Vincent Benet

For all those beaten, bombed, rolled over;
those born in the wrong place at the wrong time, 
the simple, the oppressed,
the ghosts in the flickering T.V. sets.

For Africans snatched from villages
by Militias. Held down, beaten, soaked with kerosene.
For Eastern Europeans who whispered FREEDOM 
and for those who were too scared, 
but whose homes were burned anyway.
For those who spit out the bloody stumps of their teeth 
in a dirty street

For those who’ve lost limbs, cousins, and children —
for those whose nameless graves are made in landfills.
For those eviscerated in bombs and flattened by tanks.
For those living through years in dusty cells
For those enduring, watching, hoping, going each day
to mine salt or stand in line for rice or to a secret meeting,
living meanwhile, bearing children and smuggling guns,
before they too are annihilated like drought trees in a fire. 

For those escaping into exile. 
For those who live in the small rooms of foreign cities.
For those who recall childhood voices and the smell of the wind. 
For those who remember a blossoming cherry tree.
For those who plotted and planned till they were shot in the back of the head.
And for those, humble and stupid, who had no plan
but were shot in the back of the head anyway.

And for the family who awakes to the sound of tanks. 
For the wife out of her mind for a missing husband
gone three days and then mysteriously returned 
with a purpled face and stained shirt.

For the children taught how to squeeze their body against a wall
or lie very flat at the sound a stuttering machine gun.

We thought we were done with these things, but we were wrong.
We hoped humanity could somehow expel the barbarity from its blood.
We hoped that the world would fill with light and peace
But today bombs drop, tanks rumble, and limbs are strewn across a distant village.

Fortune Tellers

Fortune Tellers never look like you expect
them to. This one has hair sprayed blonde bangs,
purple eye shadow, and boulder-sized amethyst
rings. The room smells of country rose.
Last time it was a middle-aged black woman,
natural with short hair and beige fingernails.
She wore feather earrings and whispered,
"Stop punishing yourself." This is common.

Fortune tellers often urgently grab your wrist
as you descend steps to impart an ambiguous
shred of direction. Dad likes to have his cards
read, while I prefer palm readings. Life lines
and crease counting reminds me of cartography.

We avoid the ones with crystal balls and hoop
earrings. Wearing a purple turban is suspect
in our books. Fortunes change constantly.
Fortune Tellers are like weathermen. 
It doesn't always rain, but carrying
an umbrella never hurt anyone.
First published in Eclipse.

About Feature

Kimberly Simms Gibbs

   Kimberly Simms is the director of Wits End Poetry, a non-profit charity in Greenville, SC whose mission is to advocate and promote the art of poetry. She has appeared on stage with renowned poets and performers such as Marc Smith, the Libertines, & Jeff McDaniel.
   She has been performing once a week since 1992 with cities from LA to St. Louis to Miami to London.
   She started running her first poetry slam in Charleston in 1994, and her non-profit Wits End Poetry continues to run the Upstate Poetry Slam today in downtown Greenville, SC. 
   She published her first poem in 1996, and she has published 50 more since. 
   She competed on my first slam team in 1997 as a member of Greenville's all women slam team that took the Southern Fried First Place Championship Title in 1998. She has competed in the National Poetry Slam nine times. But for the past 5 years, She have been enjoying lingering in the background as a poetry organizer and helping the next generation of poets climb onto the stage.

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Driving and Singing Villanelle
We have plunged, west coast, we are driving
mean 280Z, route one, curving round coastal mountain
ocean, the same blue green as the car, redwood trees
loom, whisper root knowledge from 1500 years of living
as we oohm, we try to listen to their singing
we are singing too, burn burning free
by pacific blue and coastal cliffs, burn burning free.
Port town, we eat Dungeness crabs, wind driving
our cheeks red, as we spoon chowder into mouths singing
of the sea. We drive on up into Shasta mountains
burn over ridges, find loggers etching out a living,
trucks cruise pass hauling loads of young redwood trees.
Just beyond the road, we see fields of clear-cut trees,
we witness forest fire blights, we’re burn burning free
to see the prismatic sides of this amazing country, luxury
and poverty, forests rising, trees blighting. We turn the curve:
a forest of windmills on the majestic mountain step,
thousands upon thousands of turning blades singing.
The stately trees, the wind, the rolling hills all singing;
we plunge down altitude, wave goodbye to California.
Fields flay themselves to distant new mountains.
Soy, corn, beans surge green, crows jump crops for free.
We are falling up, riding altocumulus clouds, driving
into indigo. We are singing too in this beautiful country.



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