"Cruelty" by Lucille Clifton
cruelty. don’t talk to me about cruelty
or what i am capable of.
when i wanted the roaches dead i wanted them dead
and i killed them. i took a broom to their country
and smashed and sliced without warning
without stopping and i smiled all the time i was doing it.
it was a holocaust of roaches, bodies,
parts of bodies, red all over the ground.
i didn’t ask their names.
they had no names worth knowing.
now i watch myself whenever i enter a room.
i never know what i might do.
Clifton's poem, "Cruelty," was written during the time of the first Persian Gulf War (1991), and can be heard on the audio collection In Their Own Voices. This presidential campaign has led to some of the ugliest racism that I have heard in this country. While "Mary Poppins" from video 1 just happened to be naming her fears off the top of her head, the association between roaches/vermin and "the Other" has a long history, not least of which is the Nazi language regarding the Jews. It's time Americans begin listening to themselves. Our words reveal more than we can face.