"In This America" by Spokane poet Kathryn Smith

I wake at 3 a.m. in this America,
head split with migraine, pain
like a spear. I swallow
prescriptions, sleep until noon. 
I’m sweat-soaked and dreaming
strange dreams of America. 
I’m planning a life
as a recluse in this America. 
I tunnel earth beneath
the stairwells of this America,
or was that in the dream, or is this
America a dream, oh, what use
is dream in this America. 
I am saying
my prayers in this America,
spending my money on co-pays
in this America, counting my blessings like
slaughtered sheep. I sleep
and wake and repeat in this America.
I sleep and fear and shake. 
My antidepressant is on backorder
in this America. I’m scheduling
appointments in this America.
I’m wearing the same clothes
every day in this America. I haven’t
been outside in weeks. 
I don’t want to be
afraid of you, America, 
but I can’t shake
your shadow behind me. 
You’re lurking again, America. 
You’re grabbing
my pussy at the bus stop, 
America. You’re beating
my wife for being my wife. I thought
we were over this, America. 
You’re turning in your gyre,
America. I’m waiting
to be born in this America. I’m pacing
the streets of this America, echoing
the prophecies of history’s mistakes.
You’ve pulled yourself up
by the bootstraps, America, 
by crushing the toes
of the shoeless.
I’m embarrassed for you, America. 
I feel sorry for you, America. 
I am calling in sick in this America.
I think you should do the same, America.
I’m quitting my job in this America.
I’m giving my money to refugees
in this America. I’m writing letters
to the widows of this America. I’m burning
my resume in this America, I am
crafting new allegiance
in this America, this
I pledge. I promise you.

From an original piece by Spokane writer Travis Naught

"We cannot become the oligarchy of the Soviet Union that sanctioned the 1952 Night of the Murdered Poets. 13 'defendants' were tried, found guilty, and executed for attempting to 'topple, undermine, or weaken the Soviet Union.' Counted among them were several Jewish literary poets and writers who were simply calling for appropriate recognition as an important minority group. News of their fates was not shared with the media or their family members for months.

"We cannot withdraw our individual voices, as I very nearly did today out of fear that simply being on a list of resistant voices might eventually lead to problems for me. We have to stay together for the promotion of art and the legality of people on every side to use whatever language they deem necessary in that art, for whatever purpose it is intended."

Read the full piece here: The Big Smoke America

"When We Got to Starbucks, Kate Said, 'Wake Up, Laura, You're in Trump's America,'" an original poem by Spokane Poet Laureate Laura Read


This morning, a man opened the door for me
and my friends and said, Chivalry is not dead
in America. It’s the morning after Donald Trump
has been elected presidentm and I am thinking
we don’t need chivalry, we need contraception,
but I just say Thank you like the school girl
I have always been. He is wearing a t-shirt
that says Easter Rising 1916, so I’m thinking
maybe he is not unsympathetic to people
speaking up against an unjust government
and then getting shot or maybe he’s just been
a tourist in Dublin where I’ve also been,
walked the same stones of that courtyard
in Kilmainham Jail where all those boys
named Patrick or James died for Ireland.
I also bought a t-shirt and went to a pub
where I hoped the beer glasses would have
handles and someone would sing Danny Boy
like my grandmother spinning me around
the kitchen. At the counter, the chivalrous man
asks us if we’re travelling for business
and we say Sort of because we don’t want to say
No, poetry, because that is always difficult,
and what we really want is for him to leave
us alone. When I order egg nog in my latte
and hope he doesn’t comment, Maya says,
Egg nog? I guess I don’t know you at all.
Once when she was a child, my mother
had a fever and my grandmother brought her
egg nog which she drank through a straw.
She rubbed her hand raw on the wood
of the bed frame and when she woke up,
her mother told her her grandmother had died.
This morning, every man looks like someone
who would never want to hurt me personally,
who thinks I am only one woman and not also
my dead grandmothers and my young mother,
her mind on fire, waiting to wake up in a world
where she once felt safe and loved.

"America, America" by Kailee Haong, poet and editor of Our Voices, the journal of diversity for Gonzaga University

He marched into our country and he took it
for his own,
He told us all to leave or die, so we ran away
from home.

We got in boats, we crossed the sea, with
nothing on our backs,
The trip was long, the water cold, the boats
were starting to crack.

America, home of the free. Equal, brave,
and just—
America, America, o help us, please, you
must.

“You can’t be here,” the white man said,
“and you cannot stay,
you’ll take all of our work and jobs and
you’ll be in our way.”

We have no hope, we have no food, no place
we can call home,
We’re not in school, we’re not in work,
we’ve got nowhere to go.

“But you’re not trying hard enough, it’s
easy, can’t you see?
I can’t believe we let you in, you’re all so
damn lazy.”

They tell me I am lazy but they do not know
my past,
They do not care to see what lies behind my
brown-skinned mask.

I’ve crossed a couple oceans with my
daughters on my arm,
I’ve told my sons to never cry, with
weakness then comes harm.

The America I learned about in history
books in school
Is not the America that “greeted” me with
punishment and rules.

America, America, o wondrous land of the
free,
You claim you are so tolerant yet will not
accept me.

America, America, can’t you see us crying?
Send your people, send your aid, help—you
are not trying.

America, America, you claim your god’s
divine,
Well heavenly father, Jesus Christ, why do
you let us die?

Spokane writer Kate Reed chose "A Brief for the Defense," a poem by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

An original piece written by Spokane County Library District librarian and writer Sheri Boggs

When we first met to plan this event I cried. I pretended I wasn’t crying, of course -- I didn’t want my fellow planners to worry about my emotional health and besides, no revolution was ever won by crybabies. But it was two weeks after the election, and like a lot of you I was bewildered and worried.

I cried out of appreciation for my fellow planners -- intelligent, irreverent, wonderful women who regularly inspire me with their commitment to their communities. I cried out of grief and embarrassment that 90% of the people I’m related to happily voted for a regressive, sexist, anti-intellectual bigot.  I cried out of worry -- for vulnerable communities and individuals, for the alarming turn this country is taking. And most of all I cried from a weird sudden gratitude. Gratitude for books, and ideas, and an education -- all of which saved me from willful ignorance and a constrained life.

Every good thing that has ever happened in my life has happened because of words. Because of ideas. Because of books, and questions, truth, and imagination. Words have given me my livelihood. Words have given me my community, my friends, my husband. Words have made me who I am.

I’m here today because I believe in words, in the power of an informed people, in the freedom of the press, which we will be needing now more than ever before. And I believe in the goodness of all of you. I believe in your passion and your devotion and your strength. Let’s keep reading, and writing, and talking to one another, and showing up. Ideas are real, they’re contagious, they spread just about as fast as the flu affecting at least half of this room. Let’s spread an infection of supporting our news organizations, our students, our teachers, our libraries, our bookstores. Let’s make a beautiful miasma of learning, and poetry, and intellectualism, of free thought and creative diligence. Let’s all catch each other’s courage and belief in not only one another but all good people across this vast nation. And let’s find healing in books, in poetry, in responsible journalism, and in the words of our contemporaries and all the great thinkers and revolutionaries who have come before.

"Their Struggle, Our Voice," an original essay by Spokane writer and Gonzaga University student Mayra Villalobos

The advancement of Latinos in the United States could not have happened without the agony of our immigrant mothers.  They have endured suffering, tears and the years of abuse to give their children a better life.  I would like to dedicate my story to the mothers, and fathers, who emigrate from Latin America, whose stories are so often invisible, and specifically to my mother, who sacrificed so much for her family.

My mother came to the United States to work and to make a better life for her children.  She tolerated perpetual discrimination, physical abuse and labored under extremely harsh conditions with no legal protections because she was an undocumented immigrant.  In 1972, at the age of 12 and as the eldest of five children, she worked in the agricultural fields traveling from Southern California up to the Skagit Valley in Washington State.  

Her upbringing was one of constant mental and physical abuse. There was no room for school.  In fact, she was so rarely in class due to her work in the fields that my mother only retained a first grade level education, even if she was passed on to the next grade.  She and my uncles were forced to labor in the summer’s hot drenching sun with little food, only to come home at the end of a 12-hour day to household chores. They were forced to hand over their paychecks to support their step-father’s alcoholic vices. No one could speak up about the abuse because they knew that no law would protect them since they were in this country undocumented.  The family never received an education beyond elementary in which contributed to the their level of self worth; to feel that their voice mattered. 

In her early 20s, my mother met my father, ran away with him and started a family.  As a married woman she continued to labor in the fields, at plant farms, in fish hatcheries; anywhere that would allow her to work.  

She remembers being bullied in school for not being able to speak English. She was always referred to as a wetback.  She never had the courage to defend herself.  

When my mother tells me about these things I can’t help but feel frustrated at her:  “Why didn’t you say anything to your teachers?!  Why didn’t you stand up for yourself?”  My innate privilege, having grown up in the United States as a U.S. citizen, receiving an education, and having laws that protect me, has made it hard for me to understand her way of thinking.  

You see, my mother has lived her life passively according to the Hispanic folk culture “marianismo”, which is the veneration for the feminine virtues that dictate female gender roles.  In this culture it is custom for women not to speak up, to suffer in silence, to be submissive to their husbands, but above all embrace motherhood as expected. 

My father was a labor activist in Mexico, and advocated for labor rights to Mexican citizens. Having received up to a high school education, dad held political debates with elite government officials. Unfortunately, the sociopolitical corruption in the late 70s and early 80s lead to the dismantle of his labor union and the disappearance of several well-known members. My father escaped on time and fled to the United States where he met my mother. 

Here, my father converted from Catholicism to the Apostolic doctrine where he preached the gospel to as many people as he can reach out to. My parents worked hard to bring good to this country, as well as to raise all us five children as compassionate and hard working citizens. 

The difference between Latino Americans, born in the U.S., and our undocumented mothers is that we have a voice and more opportunities to better ourselves.  My mother did not have a voice.  My mother, like tens of thousands of others, live life without asking for recognition, without taking credit for the success of her children. To my mother, having her children in this country and seeing us escape the cycle of injustice, of political and economic insecurity is enough. 

I have my own story of motherhood: I have experienced the stigma of being a single mother.  I have been a victim of discrimination throughout my life since childhood, mostly for having undocumented parents. I have been ostracized for not having the same English language skills and American cultural context of my cohorts. Yet I had opportunities. I chose to better myself through higher education. Because education was never talked about during my upbringing, going to school was a struggle especially without much family support. Needless to say, I am the first in my family to have a bachelor’s degree and the only one to have a master’s. 

Receiving an education is a boost to my confidence. It is my power tool to speak up on injustices that happen to the vulnerable and the underrepresented. Whether it is through an institution or self taught, knowledge is power. It is fuel to the brain ready to fight the battle; especially in these days of a new political era. With that, I will use it to inspire others and raise awareness to those who can help continue creating change.