Fist of Roses, Heart of Thorns
by Celine Dabao
Force their bloodshot eyes to open
as you traipse through clusters of houses that you see
only in comparison to the skyscrapers,
sinking your feet into the muddy passageways
between unlit cardboard walls and tin roofs,
as the smell of the recooked leftovers
from ﬂuorescent fast food restaurants waft
over the broken backs of the plantation’s children
and the swollen bellies of the weary mothers.
See the fear in their shaking hands
as you drag them into the poorly paved road,
hear them begging for undeserved mercy—
“Can you not see that we have mouths to feed?”
knowing that this is what they asked for
when they marked the name of The Punisher on their ballots,
conﬁdent that change was coming,
that it would arrive with statistical reports, body bags, and bullet-ridden brains.
Follow their tattered shirts into an unspoken realm
as they slink through the red light district,
amidst the blinking neon signs
and the polluted air that reeks of cigarettes,
around the street-corner girls
and shadowy ﬁgures under broken street lamps
who know to hide when the ﬂashing lights appear.
Hold them at gunpoint
as you barge into the grimy bathroom of a trashy club.
Watch them take their last breath on the broken tiles, their minds a montage:
a ravaged shack, echoes of a gun in the dark, a metallic tang permeating the smog:
a kaleidoscope of color and sound, the slosh of liquid like gold, pills disappearing like a magic trick.
Soon they will be ash,
as ﬁnely ground as the powdery white line on the broken sink.
The unholy guardians etched in the obscene grafﬁti look away tonight.
Our gold-dusted eyes are closed,
paper-thin lids our excuse for ignorance.
We comfort ourselves with the knowledge
that we are being prepared for the world as they know it,
when in fact, reality is too heavy a burden for us to carry.
The truth hides beyond the realm of the favored.
It lies buried in unmarked graves.
Feel our hands, soft and unmarred by callouses,
carefully examine the veins that cross through our wrists.
It was ichor that coursed through us,
each pulse, ‘you are alive’,
each beat, ‘you are alive’
like an unexpected greeting,
an eye-opening reminder,
that inside, we are all the same.
Follow us into the throne room,
as we remove the crown that privilege has bestowed.
It is no longer the blood of the immortals running through our veins,
but of the men who have yet to learn
that more power rests in the mind of the man begging for mercy
than there is in the man wielding the gun.
Watch us hold our hearts in our hands,
indistinguishable from the ﬁsts
that they encompass and mirror.
Hard work is a foreign concept, a distant place,
synonymous with the suffering and pain that we see
through television screens, and only in passing;
but we have time to learn the language of our roots,
and we have time to till the land of dirt;
we have time to grow our own roses, thorns and all.
Celine is currently a senior in high school at Everest Academy. Her works have won several awards in the Region-at-Large category of Scholastic Art and Writing in New York. You can reach her on her Instagram, @caroucels.