Protest Poems

Protest Poems


I keep writing protest poems in comfort:
near middle-class behind a desktop computer
in notebooks full of unlined, acid-free paper
in my mind on the way to work, from work

At work, in classes, I prompt my students to write
And I write along with them: protest poems
Words are witty signage and pink on brown cardboard
Lines marching from margin to margin,
I imagine me shouting, but silently—

(in comfort), safely, resisting what’s coming
Pushing back, protesting it. In poetry,
I’m a protestant in democracy,
I berate my representatives, I move
Mountains and streets. I stop traffic

With verse and rhymes and slant rhymes and no rhymes
I won’t be moved from my office chair,
I write letters I won’t send save for publishers
Of little magazines and I’ll sit, sending out

The arguments I have are rhythmic
My stances stand
in song without music
without sound



II. (Peaceful)

What would we be
had Christ pulled himself
from the cross & knocked
that hateful structure down?
Would he be Christ?
Would we stand for persecution?

What would we be if
Jesus did not ask his
Father, but used his strength? What if he
Saved himself? Could
We be saved?

What if Gandhi found
An elephant gun? What
if he pointed it at
Britain & said, “the
sun will set here”?
Who would King have
Looked to?

And what if King
got sick of spite
& spittle, & the word
nigger thrown like

Would that have mattered?


III. (Ontology of)

This Is a Protest Poem
That lists grievances on poster board
Hand-lettered signs with witty words
Colors bright, colors bland and black,
Letters in big, block, capitals
Exclamation points are used
Thought goes into where the hands will hold the board or
If not poster board, then carefully carved cardboard boxes
Where the ink in the markers make a sound like a stick against a guero
And the smell from the ink stinks of dangerous chemicals
And the angry tears are wiped by the heel of blued and blackened and reddened hands
The colors smear on your face
You consider comfortable shoes and debate on
Wearing a Fitbit wonder if you should bring an energy bar
You charge your phone and you pack gum and wonder if you should make a playlist
Fill your water bottle
You’ll stay all day
You’ll be there all night
You’ll camp out
Stay a lifetime
And worry if—
each step you take in those walking shoes
                 Holding the sign until your wrists ache
                 Yelling slogans til your throat is scratchy
—this is enough?


IV. (Reprise)

What bothers me are the cigarette butts underfoot
What bothers me is the woman behind me who
won’t answer her child I can’t see,
I can’t be seen, I say something here
I can’t be heard. I say something at all
I won’t be heard. What bothers me is
that we keep stopping. Before me: shoulders
& backs, one tall guy’s ass. I don’t know
why we’re stopping. I’m losing the chant,
I catch it, I chant, I tried to be heard.
It starts to rain & someone starts singing
Her voice like a call to love and a call to arms
I grab my friend and move towards the left
We get out of the crowd
I want to say that this is not quite what I want
But I can’t be heard.


About the Author

DeMisty D. Bellinger's fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in many places, including Necessary Fiction, The Rumpus, Blue Fifth Review, and WhiskeyPaper. Her chapbook, Rubbing Elbows (2017) is available with Finishing Line Press. DeMisty has an MFA from Southampton College and a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She teaches creative writing, African American studies, and women's studies at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. She lives in Fitchburg with her husband and twin daughters. You can learn more about DeMisty and find links to her work at