“Joy is the Justice We Give Ourselves”

Liberation and justice for all includes for ourselves. It includes experiencing pleasure, belonging, peace, and joy. Poet and professor at Clemson University, J. Drew Lanham, paints a beautiful landscape of the lushness of a joyful existence.

Joy is the Justice We Give Ourselves
by J. Drew Lanham

Joy is the justice,
we give ourselves.
It is Maya’s caged bird
sung free past the prison bars
holding spirits bound—
without due process
without just cause.

Joy is the steady run stream,
rights sprung up
through moss soft ground—
water seeping sweet,
equality made clear
from sea
to shining sea,
north to south,
west to east.

Joy is the truth,
crooked lies hammered straight;
whitewashed myths
wiped away.
Stone Mountain
—just stone.
—no more.
Give the eagles
their mountains back.

Joy is the paradise
we can claim,
right here,
right now.
No vengeful gods
craving prayer,
no tenth in tithes to pay,
no repenter’s cover charge—
no dying required to get in.

Joy is the sunrise,
breaking through night’s remains
bright shone new
on a shell-wracked shore;
a fresh tide-scrubbed world
redeems what was,
to is.

Joy is on whimbrel wings;
the wedge in fast flight,
wandering curlews
curved-beaks’ cries
stitching top of the world
to bottom.

Joy is the soul stirred
underneath the journey,
gaze snagged on wonder,
not knowing final destination,
blessed as a witness
moored to ground,
worshipful tears
dripped into grateful smile.

Joy is the silent spring,
Rachel’s world not come to pass.
The season
dripping ripe full
of wood thrush song.

Joy is all the Black birds,
flocked together,
too many to count,
too many to name,
every one different
from the next,
swirling in singularity
across amber-purpled sky.

Joy is being loved
up close,
for who we are.

Joy is the last song,
drifting in
as dark curtains fall;
the sparrow’s vesper offering,
whistle lain down
in pine-templed woods,
requiem in me-minor—
church in a cathedral time built.
No stained glass.
No pulpit.
Altars everywhere.
Just listen.
Just Look.

Joy is the return,
the wandering warbler
landed in the backyard again,
from who knows where,
to rest,
to uplift lagging spirit.

Joy is the healing,
broken dreams restored—
Langston’s words
kettling higher
on hopes,
drifting ever upwards
on ragged-mid-lined rhyme,
dancing to syncopated verse.

Joy is our lives mattering,
Blackness respected.
It is seeing my color,
hue not blinded by privilege,
the pious privilege
of claiming you don’t.

Joy is the proper name,
with no “n” in the beginning
or “i,” or double “g” or “e”
in the middle
with an “r” rolled hateful—
hard at the end.

Joy is your truth,
being the same behind my back
as to my face.

Joy is the sharp eye
watching little brown sparrows,
and the kind one,
on little brown children too.

Joy is the ancestors
come before,
surviving the struggle
staying strong
in the midst of withering storm;
from shackled ancestors
through Jim Crowed back doors
to gerrymandered chokehold now.
Still here in spite of it all.

Joy is the payoff,
for those often down
but never out.

Joy is the thriving,
a people who won’t die
in the midst of all this
the breaths
ins followed by outs
without begging for air,
or asking your Mama’s ghost
to help.

Joy is the drive,
with no traffic stops,
with no taillights out,
with no tint technically too dark,
with no speed traps,
with no “yes sir officer sirs.”
No hands at two and ten.
No wondering
where the registration is.

Joy is the flashing blue light
passing by,
not meant for me.

Joy is the good news,
without new dead names,
no chokeholds or murdering knees.
A night of sleep
in your very own bed
without shots in the dark
—no more waking up
full of lead.

Joy is the morning jog
without being hunted down.

Joy is the loss
we take to gain,
monuments to traitors
torn down,
lost causes finally buried,
never to be found again.

Joy is the prairie,
where billowed cloud
and wild grass meet;
where the hawk’s glide
from there to here—
its own choice to make
no border crossing checks.

Joy is the surrender,
to faith of push;
to trust in lift,
giving over to Toni’s command
to ride the air.
To float above
the trouble of this world
on a wish.

Joy is my grandma’s hands,
grits through gnarled fingers tossed
on cold ground,
to snowbirds she pitied—
a love for others
that became my own.

Joy is the all wild not tamed,
the rarest beast
with talons sharp,
or long teeth bared
in the faraway place.

Joy is the wayward weed
in the midtown sidewalk seam,
the one I choose to call
because it dared
to not be planted,
to not be controlled.

Joy is at the end,
a bruised purpling sky
when the night
comes again,
when luck is metered
by stars winking bright.

Joy is the frogs calling,
amplexus orgying delights.

Joy is the close call,
that wasn’t close enough.
Death past by you.
Life stopping by.

Joy is a heart still beating.
Even though,
what could have been—

Joy is the knowing
that what this world
did not give—
it can not take away.

Joy is the moment
we grab in sweat-soaked
trembling hands,
that slides from possession;
stolen legally in bits and pieces
between yawning cracks
of despair.

Joy is tears,
drops of salt water
fallen in the creases
of an upturned smile.

Joy is the necessity,
that must be lain by,
what’s kept hoarded in a sturdy cache
ever ready to apply.

Joy is the gift,
just desserts,
what we deserve
without asking
or constant demands—
the comfort that comes
when no one else
really cares.

Joy is the reward
the salary already earned—
back pay
with four centuries interest
compounded daily.
At least eighty acres—
and two mules.

Joy is the day off,
just because.

Joy is the kiss of that one,
or the just verdict
delivered by twelve.

Joy is the everything,
the nothing.
The simple,
the complex.
Joy is the silly,
the serious,
the trivial.
The whale enormous,
the shrew’s small.

Joy is the murmuration,
then the stillness.

Joy is the inexplicable coincidence.
Joy is what was meant to be.
The mystery of impossibility happening.
The assurance of uncertainty.

Joy is my seeking.
Your being.
It is mine for the taking.
Ours to share.
More than enough to go around,
when it seems nowhere to be found.

Have yourself a heapin’ serving.
Have seconds. Or thirds.
joy is the justice,
we must give ourselves

This poem was originally published by Emergence Magazine

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