Poem-a-Day - "Good Grief" by KB Brookins

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April 23, 2022 

Good Grief

KB Brookins
after the 2021 Texas Winter Storm

I’ll admit that I’ve never thought about frostbite.

Trauma of the blood, a thing to be avoided when heat goes out for an entire state.

I don’t know where to place this grief, this sweltering state freezing, politicians breezing over to a country that doesn’t have tissue choked out by its winter yet.

The sky can only do what it does.

The American government can only do what systems driven by green paper, violence & ache can do.

The trees bloom over dead bodies, missing.

The sound of hands rubbing, engines purring, hopes that gas lights or chafing or the rapture won’t come first may quiver in my blood forever.

I am Black but maybe I am doomed.

Memory flashes like a computer screen; I see the zoom link expand. Colleagues process whatever failure number of a thousand this was this year and I can only remember white.

Six inches deep, sunken into my boots all over.

The timeline of friends stranded, impending doom of electricity shutting off, water pressure slipping into nothing every hour, pipes bursting on top of all that white.

I haven’t recovered from seeing things that too-closely resemble holes in a graveyard.  

I haven’t forgotten the project is due in 2 weeks.

My therapist says take it easy as if capitalism is listening. As if the body will ever forget what it is given.

I am Black which is history, personified.

I used to listen to Pilot Jones fondly. With all this frostbite on my fingers, I’m not sure if I can type.

I cannot finish another sentence on unity.

What is unified about ERCOT letting us freeze? Knowing how to fix the problem & not doing it; how does that form a Kumbaya circle?

If I made art about every pain I’ve felt unjustly, I would be swimming in accolades for great American books.

I would take back every word I’ve written if it ended this.

America is the worst group project.

I’m writing a great American poem about suffering.

How much is going without food that isn’t canned for a week worth?

The absence of snow feels like betrayal. My memory mixes with American delusion. 

I can’t believe half the things that I’ve been through.

Ice cold, baby, I told you; I’m ice cold.

Who said it first, Frank Ocean or Christopher Columbus?

I’ve never been taught how to adequately mourn the nights spent bitching about a brisk wind; the night we almost got stranded trying to get to J before the cold swallowed them whole.

I want to give everything I’ve been handed a good cry. Red skin & chapped lips deserve it.  

Good grief, what has Texas done to me.

An article features a person walking past tents near I-35. 

I can’t cry about the body but I feel it.

A highway splits a nation from its promise to be one.

Everything feels blurry and the palm trees have died.

Everything transported here withers away eventually.

6 months later and I haven’t been able to shovel out my sadness.

A news report said that it’s safe to go back to work. & I listen, because what else can you do in 6 inches of white.

The snow melted and I still feel frostbitten.

There are no heroes in a freeze-frame changing nothing.

I pose begrudgingly. Say cheese & then write this.

I’m not a survivor; just still breathing.

I remember grief, love’s grand finale.

What else do we have if not the memory of life before this?

I cannot tell you how many lives I’ve lost to mourning, but I can tell you that the sky does what it does.

Let’s go for a walk & touch the trees that survived like us.

Let’s write a future more joyful & less inevitable in segments of leaves.

Anything we dream will be better than this.

Copyright © 2022 by KB Brookins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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About the Treehouse Climate Action Poem Prize

KB Brookins’s “Good Grief” is the first-place winner of the 2022 Treehouse Climate Action Poem Prize. Established in 2019 with generous support from Treehouse Investments, the prize is given to honor exceptional poems that help make real for readers the gravity of the vulnerable state of our environment at present. Beginning with the Saturday after Earth Day, Poem-a-Day will feature this year’s three winners on consecutive weekends.

“Though grounded in a specific disaster, the 2021 Texas ice storms, ‘Good Grief’ nonetheless seems to speak for all of us. The voice is unique and yet familiar. ‘America is the worst group project’ and ‘Anything we dream will be better than this’ cry out against the structural lack of care that leads to climate disaster, also known as the American Dream, and offer the beginning of a new idea of kinship: ‘Let’s go for a walk & touch the trees that survived like us.’ In the end, these magnetic words remind us that the root networks trees create underground are a better model of survival than a broken, predatory power-grid. May we reach for each other in life-sustaining ways, like the trees.”
Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali & Alexis Pauline Gumbs

“After Winter Storm Uri I was rattled—mentally and physically—for months. Every single routine and regulation technique felt impossible; yet I was expected to move on as if I wasn’t stripped to survival mode for seven days. Once I found the time to actually fondle through my thoughts, and once I started to heal through the Winter Storm Project, this came spilling out.”
KB Brookins

KB Brookins is a Black, queer, and trans poet and the author of Freedom House, forthcoming in 2023 from Deep Vellum Publishing. The recipient of fellowships from the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, Equality Texas, The Watering Hole, and PEN America, they live in Austin, on Jumanos, Tonkawa, Lipan Apache, Coahuiltecan, Sana, and Comanche land.
“I Dont Know What Will Kill Us First: The Race War or What Weve Done to the Earth” by Fatimah Asghar
read more

“the earth is a living thing” by Lucille Clifton
read more

Thanks to Naomi Shihab Nye, author of Cast Away: Poems for Our Time (Greenwillow Books, 2021), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Listen to a Q&A about Nye’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year.
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