Poem: ‘Virtue Signaling, Wisconsin’ by Tiana Clark

You couldn’t know this loneliness…
Natalie Eilbert

My first night in Madison     the air was different—
cool, less sticky. The street    was quiet, weirdly       stagnant

Our house, a pale yellow.    I straddled the            isthmus,
felt ice chip                          between both lakes     like frozen lace.

I’m hyper        visible now,       so seen, so       everywhere, then suddenly
nowhere—so much so, I became            Muzak        to my own face.

Now         I’m being followed         inside a grocery store. Down each aisle,
then back again. Now I’m being                  stalked              inside a restaurant.

I switch seats.                But it does not matter.        I feel it all:         the eyeballs
of this town scorch        the back of my neck,         skin already darker there.

I want to pluck                     all the signs          I see stapled across
these manicured lawns        that read:             Black Lives Matter.

I don’t believe you.       There is a sign you buy because
you want so badly to believe                  in what it has to say,

and there is a sign you buy       because
you want others to believe you are brave.

A sign can’t save                                 my life?        You will not spare me.
I watch                         as you watch me                   I watch

as my white students watch me       I watch me       watch me, smaller now
than when I first moved here.                                     Lost a quarter of an inch

my doctor said.                          Most days                  I wait
for the bitter winter to end.         Most days                   I wait     for another black

person to pass me.                   Most days                           they never come.
Most days I wait            for another black person          to save me

and we hold the gaze.           We do not smile or lie.        A simple nod
simply                                                                  saves my life.

Tiana Clark is the author of “I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), her first full-length poetry collection, which won the 2017 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. She is also the author of “Equilibrium” (Bull City Press, 2016). Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review and elsewhere. “Virtue Signaling, Wisconsin” is reprinted with permission from The Los Angeles Review.

Featured image courtesy of Attilio D’Agostino.

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