Letter to Anthony [Critical Resistance] By Suheir Hammad

this is not a pre paid
call this is not a poem
this is not a letter written from a woman

on the inside this is a

dear nazim aka nymflow-9 aka
bronx bomber aka anthony aka
42851-054 5812
hey brother i hope
this finds you well and safe

i have carried these words for months
through ports and air
and i still have a hard time
five years later writing
you when i travel

but your letters i take
with me the graffiti you throw
at the end of a dozen
handwritten double sided single
spaced muslim oil scented legal
sheets offers me a home
in polyester hotel rooms

you have never been on an airplane

i think of that often when i try
to help women place words together
into rhymes or lines these women
try to make sense of their lives

what makes me different i mean
people actually pay you they say to
read some poems and talk? shit i got a lot
say let someone pay me to talk. fuck that
just get me out of here and i’ll talk sing dance
shut up if they want

i don’t tell them i get paid just enough for rent
rent means a home even
if you broke it’s home

we workshop poems and their stories
are not original or fictional
a woman will tell you
every home she has ever inhabited
has been broken into
starting with her body

i never leave a prison
without my head splitting
down my spine an iron
hand on my lungs

when you call anthony
and that woman’s voice says
this is a pre paid call press 5
to accept this call
i press 5 count
to 3 take a deep breath and pray
we talk and when the voice
interrupts any intimacy
we’ve embroidered via phone wires with
this call is from a federal prison
we pick up the shards
of our conversation desperate
to finish before the next

i have always loved criminals
i tell people who try to shame
me into silence
with words like television conjugal
college libraries they say
can you imagine a library in a nigerian a chinese a
columbian prison do you know what happens
in the world americans are spoiled no idea
how lucky
we are here

even you often write how
your time has offered reflection
mediation deepened your faith
but you 27 and have 10
years to go nowhere how much deeper
you going to get until a system based
on money deems you rehabilitated

i have always loved criminals
and the way you bomb my tag
butterphoenix all across your letters
reminds me our affirmation is
considered vandalism

i have always loved criminals and not only the thugged
out bravado of rap videos and champagne
popping hustlers but my father
born an arab baby boy
on the forced way out
of his homeland his mother exiled
and pregnant gave birth in a camp

the world pointed and said
palestinians do not exist palestinians
are roaches palestinians are tow legged dogs
and israel built jails and weapons and
a history based on the absence of a people
israel made itself holy and chosen
and my existence a crime

so i have always loved criminals
it is a love of self
and i will not cut off any part of
me and place it behind fences and bars
and the fake ass belief
that there is a difference between
the inside and the outside

there is no outside anywhere
anymore just where we are and
what we do while we are here

and there
are people anthony who make a connection
between you puerto rican rhyme slayer beautiful man and
young girls twisted into sex work and these
people nazim they are working to stop prisons
from being economically beneficial to depressed
communities and these people
bronx bomber they imagine a world
where money can’t be made off the hurt
of the young the poor the colored the
sexualized the different and these people
nymflow they never heard you
spit lyrics and they won’t
see the cut of your brilliance
from these mere words
but these people
42851-054 5812
they believe human
beings can never be reduced
to numbers not in concentration
campus or reservations not in
refugee camps not in schools
and not in jails

these people
brother they resist

i will share these words
with them and i will
in your name and the names
of all who imagine

stay well
and safe
and love

Previously published in Zaatar Diva, Cypher Books 2009