This poem was born as a consequence of witnessing. During The Uprising which happened just shortly after Derek Chauvin and the Minneapolis Police Department squeezed the life out of George Floyd, local protests, local art, and violence in localized places started to pop up all over the Twin Cities. The days were long and the nights were even longer. During the days, just before the city imposed an 8 pm curfew, I would ride around Minneapolis on my Marin beach cruiser with my 7 and 3-year-old kids strapped in the back-wheel burley rolling through the avenues spectating. We witnessed the peaceful and not so peaceful parts of the previous nights. We saw celebration, alongside destruction of stores, goods, and property. But above all, we saw artists enraged and engage a tense city, a more tense community, a terse police federation, and a tick of a mayor the only way they could—through art. This act of witnessing transformed to a call to action for me so I began to write. Ironically, the photograph used to help readers visualize the poem was the first image my iPhone 12 captured on our bike rides. I was honored to capture this artist in the creative process and wanted to juxtapose this scene with a line taken from Faulkner’s short story, “Dry September.” I feel as if this city, this time that we are living in right now, is illustrative of life caught in its terrible and beautiful mutations. I especially want to highlight George Floyd's experience and his connection to the murdered, black watchman named Will Mayes.
Lester Batiste is a savage writer in living color who writes for political, social, economic change and Black futures. Born in Chicago, he holds an MFA from the University of Southern Maine, and an M.S.Ed from the University of Pennsylvania. Influenced by Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, and Toni Morrison, Lester strives to weave traditional forms and techniques with the vibrancy of African American experience and speech. Lester currently teaches English literature classes at The Blake Upper School in Minneapolis, MN.
Lester's Book Recommendations
The Wet Hex by Sun Yung Shin
How to Communicate by John Lee Clark
Judas & Suicide by Maya Williams
A Darker Wilderness: Black Nature Writing from Soil to Stars by Erin Sharkey
Giving Artists Their Flowers
Re spect es
Res pect is urned
El respeto se gana y
Respect is arned and not
R.E.S.P.E.C.T. is earned and not giv’
Rəˈspekt is earned and not given.
Xushmad ku socota fanaaniinta markhaatiga ka ah
Respect too the artists who witness life
Respect two artists who witnesses life caught
Respect ii the artists who witnesses life caught-in
Respect 2 the artists who witness life caught-in it’s
Respect TO the artists who witness life caught in it’s tear
Respect to0 the artists who witness life caught in it’s terri
Respekt till konstnären som bevittnar livet som fångas i det är fruktansvärt
Respect to the are-tis who witness life caught N it’s terrible and
Respect to the r-tists who witness life caught in it’s terrible and beau
Kev hwm rau cov neeg ua yeeb yam uas pom lub neej ntes tau hauv nws qhov txaus
ntshai thiab kev zoo nkauj
Respect to el artist who witness life caught in it’s terrible and beautiful
Respect to the artist who witness life caught en it’s terrible and beautiful mutes
respekt tsu der kinstler vos edus lebn gekhaft in zeyn shreklekh aun sheyn miutants
Respect II the artist who witnessed “life caught in it’s terrible and beautiful mutations”
Respect to the artist who witness lyfe caught in it’s terrible and beautiful mutations
Respect to the artist who witnesses life caught N its terrible and beautiful mutations…
and records it for the whole world to see!