Emily Jo Scalzo received her MFA in Fiction from California State University, Fresno in 2010. Writers she has worked with include Lance Olsen, Doug Rice, Corrinne Hales, John Hales, David Anthony Durham, Patricia Henley, and Steve Yarbrough. Her work has been published in Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, The Mindful Word, Blue Collar Review, and Midwestern Gothic.
If the Human Race is the Only Race, Why Does this Shit Still Happen?
#AllLivesMatter makes me want
to flay my skin from my body,
strip by pale strip
to offer to my brethren
who were born without
the benefit of lazy melanin.
Times like these I hate
the liberty I was born to,
have benefitted from,
continue to possess,
allowing me to live without
fear I'll be shot if I'm pulled over.
If—I probably won't be stopped
if I don't signal a turn quickly enough,
have a broken taillight,
fit a profile or vague suspect description,
look “bad” or “on something,”
or am just in the wrong neighborhood.
I wish we white people could see
the damage we do to bodies of color
but cognitive dissonance
slices deep and most prefer ignorance
to agonized awareness of the fortune
we enjoy by accident.
So we falsely invoke Dr. King,
whitewash him for our purposes,
pretending we'd approve of him
while shaming #BlackLivesMatter
for the same direct action
as they fight his same battles
against similar demagogues
because we can't learn from history,
doomed to repeat ad nauseum
the sins of our forefathers
against our fellows of the human race,
ignoring our privilege to protect it.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma
A cow’s tongue is smooth and slimy,
its licks strong against the flesh, scraping a circular pattern.
I learned this at thirteen, escaping to our disused pasture
after bad days at school to tear long grass from their stalks
and push them through the electric fence
to the neighbor’s cattle enclosure.
I didn’t earn this sensation the first day--
the black and white steer didn’t come to the fence
until I had backed away—but after a few weeks,
I could pet him as he munched happily on my gifts,
his weathered fur rough against the tips of my fingers
through the wire barrier in the quiet of the field.
One day he nuzzled up to my arm while I pet him
and pushed out his long tongue to lick my arm,
bathing it as though I were a calf--
a cow destined for the slaughterhouse
offering me affection in the only way he could,
lost when we moved a few weeks later.
The Reason I Blocked You on Facebook
I don't feel like playing nice anymore,
plying proper rhetoric
while you spew hyperbole,
my voice lost in the vacuum
public discourse has become.
Baited with insults and slander,
you try to tempt me with demagoguery,
never listening unless I snap
and then only to point at my lost temper,
believing it a sign you've won,
that discussion is a battle one can win,
and it's like fighting a monolith
formed of excrement and bile,
an exercise in futility
destined to end in disease.
To My Father
I’ve never told you
I secretly check your breathing at night,
listening in the dark
if you’re not snoring when I go to the bathroom.
I was on the phone five years ago
all the way in Fresno, when Mom said,
“Oh, God, your father just fell off the roof,”
and hung up, leaving me in static.
You’re the only person I know who, in his sixties,
would still climb up on his mother-in-law’s roof
in a tornado-producing Midwest rainstorm
to clean her overflowing gutters.
I waited for the call only to learn you were stubborn,
lying on Grandma’s couch insisting you were fine,
when in fact three vertebrae had been broken.
You would be on disability for months.
When I flew in for my birthday
you met me in the airport, called my name.
I didn’t recognize you, dismissed you
as speaking to someone who shared my name.
You were never old in my eyes until that moment.
You had stopped shaving because it hurt too much,
had a full beard, mostly salt with a bit of pepper,
when I’d only ever seen you clean-shaven in all my life.
It was the summer Mom got the dogs--
one, at first, and then five when she gave birth,
then back down to two again--
company while you sat at home in your hard plastic shell.
Five years later, your back wakes you,
and you spend nights on the couch in the living room.
You’re too feeble to even lift the fallen
pink throw pillow sewn by your mother.
When I pick it up for you, you hold it
like a child might hold a teddy bear,
and fall right to sleep, leaving me
to listen for your breathing from my room.