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Grocery store parking lot(photo: The Consumerist/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

I was verbally and physically assaulted in a parking lot at a local grocery store by four people because they thought that my shorts were too short and that I looked like a “faggot.” They didn’t try to take any money. They didn’t try to steal the beer I had just bought. They only wanted to hurt someone. And so they left me with a swollen face and jaw and a black eye, with a confused mind and troubled heart. I was up all night with tears and nausea and roiling emotions, then went to the ER. Three fractures in my face.

Below is a poem I wrote about the incident. I don’t feel anger against the perpetrators, only confusion and pity and sadness. I also don’t take credit for not feeling anger. It’s simply the natural course my mind and heart have taken. But I will say that it has allowed me to recover psychologically from the incident in a way that I don’t believe would have been possible if I were plagued by anger and desire for vengeance. I’m grateful for this grace.

The Way They Loved Each Other

What to be more astonished at:
my calm as the fist made contact
and I saw a flash of white
and the world went silent
as if I had stepped out of it
momentarily, only to be brought back
with a rush of sound and visible objects—
the way I asked them to help me
find my glasses, expecting them
(even as they taunted me,
even though they had just assaulted me)
to feel underneath the violent tribal urge
the obligations of empathy—
the way even as one of them found my glasses
and smashed them again on the ground
I refused to believe that was really
what he wanted to do—the way
they loved each other
in the most primitive manner
but loved each other nonetheless
despite feeling the need to punish a “faggot”
who did not dress like them, because
he did not dress like them—
the way tears and nausea overwhelmed me
nightlong much more than had the blow itself—
the way such small suffering can feel
unbearable—the way no strength is found
for what seems to have no explanation,
a troubled mind more harmful
to the body than fractured bones.


Luke HankinsLuke Hankins is an associate editor of Asheville Poetry Review and lives in Asheville, North Carolina. His poems, essays, and translations have appeared in Connotation PressContemporary Poetry ReviewNew England ReviewPoetry East, and The Writer’s Chronicle, as well as on the Being Blog. He is currently editing an anthology of poems due out next year from Wipf & Stock Publishers entitled Poems of Devotion. He regularly posts to his blog, A Way of Happening.

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16 Comments

"the way such small suffering can feel / unbearable": a haunting line in a beautifully written poem.

I'm reading "Townie" by Andre Dubus III. This poem could be its summary. 

I, for one, am thankful for your grace. 

Wow Tribalism at its worst.

I recall being punched randomly in the eye by a kid in Junior High School, a kid I am confident I would have had no problem vanquishing physically.  But I was so stunned by the randomness of it, and that someone could derive pleasure from such an act, and that the orchestrators of the universe saw fit to allow this to happen to me... that I did nothing.  Just walked away, and spent the rest of the day making up stories about my black in response to countless inquiries.  But I still think about it to this day.  I can't imagine the effect of what you went through might have had on me.  Thanks for sharing this.

That's the line that jumped out at me, too: "the way such small suffering can feel / unbearable". Wow. So powerful.

I am also thankful for your grace (both your empathy and your creativity), while being deeply sad that you experienced this hate crime and that such hate still surges through the world. Thank goodness beauty can still shine through, if we know how to see.

awesome poem.  thanks for sharing.

Wow, thats really sad how people can be so cruel just because of what you wear or how you look. Sometimes I feel like we're still living back in the days of segregation. It's really sad. 

Thank you Luke for your vulnerability, your words, your gentle energy in a world less than kind. MG

Ah Luke, you: shining a light in the opaque dark of brutal ignorance.
 A gesture of grace and courage.
Thank you thank you.

Just as a mom... never get dislike a child for his unkaramic acts.

Same way... We all are childs... We all are ignorant... We don`t know how we harming others by our acts..

Can`t we forgive to the people who are cruel to us > With this same feeling...

`jUST aS a cHILD`

Your poem is beautiful, touching.  Thanks for sharing it, and your non-vengeful spirit: something to be truly grateful for.  I would love to see it published in the Asheville Citizen Times, which reported on the attack.  Thank you. 

It so happens that we recorded Luke reading his essay and poem, which then aired on WCQS and became their most requested piece of the week. You can hear his reading here: http://www.wcqs.org/wcqs/stati....

I really felt your pain when I read your poem. No one should ever be treated this way. That is why God made us each different. It doesn't matter what a person wears or what we look like, people need to see what is under the clothes, our hearts.

It's truly amazing how someone can come out of such an experience and feel no anger towards the people who put them through this. You are one amazing man to know no anger!!!! Too often attacks like this happen and the attackers are never punished for what they do, ONE DAY they will experience being victimized, karma will always linger around them.

Thought I would share some of my own poetry (although not as good as Luke's) but it does express my heartfelt search for "peace and reconciliation" in these challenging times:

Mimshak*

As the Lord lives, it must be the Lord himself who will strike him, whether the time comes for him to die, or he goes out and perishes in battle. But the Lord forbid that I touch his anointed.
1 Samuel 26:5-25

David’s “honorable” moment
Is often forgotten in our
Death-obsessed culture

Where blood-soaked remnants
Of gang murders
And innocent prisoners
Whose lives are wasted
With swords quite less forgiving

With David’s sword so close
To the head of Saul

So close to injecting the lethal
Dose
So easy to sentence another to
Death row …
David’s spear poised for the final blow
So easily to dispatch the
Hoody-wearing teen

A town in Florida replays
The drama at Zilph
Abishai urging the destruction
Of the fugitive’s enemy and
A frightened gun with such an easy shot

Can’t you hear General Abishai now?
“What fortune, God has delivered the
Enemy to us - JUST DO IT!

David more than hesitates
He defends the “anointed of God”
“But the Lord forbid that I touch his anointed”

Thereby anointing all of us who
Just might forget …

That God (and only God) anoints
And that the same God both gives
And takes what we should never
Presume is our “right” to do what
Only David says the Lord is allowed
To do

That spear of vengeance and hate
Through the head of Saul or Treyvon
Or Iraqi children or Syrian tyrants or the
Many lost souls walking that last “green mile”

Are they not God’s anointed too?

By Rick Folker

*Hebrew for ‘anointed”

Hate Crimes & Caucuses

Republican candidates
Cornfield Conservatives
Cutting budgets
Slashing Safety nets

Christian King Makers
movers and muckrakers
Trying once more
To revive the corpse
Of welfare mothers
And unworthy takers

Right wing politicians
Iowa farmers and preachers
Cultivating fields of fear and loathing
While cutting the salaries of teachers

Illegal aliens, baby killers, and uppity gays
Are once again
Paraded onto the stage for a "debate"?
Every four years the favorite, feeble target
Of that SAME OLD TIRED HATE

Rick Folker

Even though it happened a year ago, I am still saddened by another hate crime in Norway - here's my thoughts:

Dies Irae
by Rick Folker

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
There is no one who does good, No, not one.
- Psalm 14:2-3

The frigid waters of fear
In Norway last year.

Senseless violence shatters
The serenity of youthful innocence
Leaving us with our empty, useless astonishment.

Yet again, fundamentalism, fanaticism, and fear
Darken the skies
And Victimize the hope, the future
We believe we see
In young Norwegian eyes.

The midsummer playground where
Blood now stains the grasses and wildflowers,
Teardrops fall from Heaven’s Cry
Broken hearts feel a Nordic, icy chill
Instead of the warmth of summer
Now silenced and still.

And winter arrives in July
The pall of evil covers the hearts
Of those of us who ask again and again

WHY? WHY? WHY?

apples