echo: an autobiographical journey of the power of the ballot

Posted by Quraysh Al Lansana on November 8, 2016



this land is your land, this land is my land

                        Woody Guthrie


this land of lies and death march

seven votes shy of becoming home


for all freed africans. the founding

outlaws of oklahoma went to roosevelt


drunk on statehood. teddy said yes if no

jim crow. in november 1907 the forty-sixth.


by mid december, senate bill one, jane and

jim crow walk arm in arm down bitter


streets in tulsa, jackson, atlanta, new orleans

wichita, baltimore, little rock, st. louis,


charleston, dallas, louisville, memphis

selma. a legislated hate. a literacy test.


a poll tax. a photo ID. a nothing new. bull

connors’s grandkids meet at election integrity


group parties, slang for white citizen’s councils

drink tea with their whiskey, load guns.


we are at the pettus again & again & again &


we are a teacher unemployed for registering

students, we are the over employed weekend


voter, we are the solo mami’s & papi’s

who struggle with the machinery, not the process


we are we are two-thousand chicago

precinct judges answering a robo-call telling


them not to report for work. fraud is in the eye

of the beholder, that permanent marker of lines


we cannot see because they are clear. are we

medgar, mary, chaney, goodman, schwerner?


it is 1965. it is 2015. we are on the bridge.


(Image credit: 'Two-minute warning,' by IIP Photo Archive, via flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

About the author more »

Quraysh Ali Lansana was born in Enid, Oklahoma and earned his MFA from New York University, where he was a departmental fellow. He is the author of the poetry collections mystic turf (2012), They Shall Run: Harriet Tubman Poems (2004), and Southside Rain (2000); his chapbooks include reluctant minivan (2014), bloodsoil (sooner red) (2009), Greatest Hits: 1995-2005 (2006), and cockroach children: corner poems and street psalms (1995). He has also written a children’s book, The Big World (1999). Lansana has been a literary teaching artist and curriculum developer for over a decade and has led workshops in prisons, public schools, and universities in over 30 states. He is a former faculty member of the Drama Division of The Juilliard School, and served as director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University from 2002-2011, where he was also associate professor of English/Creative Writing. Currently, Lansana is on faculty in the Creative Writing Program of the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and the Red Earth MFA Creative Writing Program at Oklahoma City University.

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