Poem: ‘Virtue Signaling, Wisconsin’ by Tiana Clark
You couldn’t know this loneliness…
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.