Submission Guidelines: Send unpublished poems in the body of an email (NO ATTACHMENTS) to nvneditor[at] No simultaneous submissions. Use "Verse News Submission" as the subject line. Send a brief bio. No payment. Authors retain all rights after 1st-time appearance here. Scroll down the right sidebar for the fine print.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


by Carol Lem

Even before we sat down for the beer, I learned
that the two gentlemen spent some time together
listening to one another, which is a testimony to them.
– Barack Obama

We will listen to each other lie
before cameras, reporters, and the president,

eyeing this “teachable moment” when I
take your hand in mine, and we say

we’re sorry. But listen, grabbing a beer
in the sunny Rose Garden – and not your face

in the night shadows of my front porch,
gun and badge wrapped around your words,

I hear a man in a plain suit and tie
talk about his life growing up with black kids

and white thugs and how he wanted to stop
the beating. But listen, that night –

you were hearing those kids cursing
the thugs in one kid’s home.

That night, with history lining the bookshelves
behind me and shoving my Harvard I.D.

into the accusing lens of your flashlight,
I remembered in school getting A’s

on my essays and the white teacher saying,
“Who’s been writing these for you, boy?”

That night, you were that teacher.
And I was getting back at all you guys

who can’t hear the words of a man
that was once that boy, a black man

standing before his own class
teaching white folks about the law.

And I heard only those handcuffs
click against our separate histories,

how in the eyes of your law
I was still that uppity schoolboy.

Carol Lem teaches Creative Writing and Literature at East Los Angeles College. Her poems appear in Chrysalis, Tebot Bach, and Red Rock Review. Practicing shakuhachi, Japanese bamboo flute, inspires her poems. Poems from Shadow of the Plum may be heard on her CD, Shadow of the Bamboo, at