Phyllis Wax

No Critical Theories, Please: A Multitude of Voices            

They don’t want children to feel bad.
They don’t want them to think we are bad.
They don’t want them to think
our country isn’t exceptional.
They don’t want them to think
our country wasn’t perfect
from the very beginning.

They don’t want them to think
the founding fathers had any faults.
They don’t want them to think
Native Americans were victims of genocide
or anyone was harmed by slavery.
They don’t want them to think
this country has ever done anything
they should be ashamed of.

They present a white-                           
washed history.

They don’t want our children to think.


War Crimes                          

In war
people are hyperaware        
of danger.

Yet, if they’re captured, say in Bucha,
whether soldiers or civilians,                               
they don’t expect
to be rounded up
and shot.

In Buffalo or Brunswick, GA or . . .                      
almost anywhere in this conflict zone
folks of color know
they must stay alert,
look over their shoulder,                                
be ready to dive for cover.

Even when shopping for groceries
or out for a jog.                          

Hear hateful voices,
hard to ignore.
See the camo garb,                                                   
all the guns. Here, too,
is war.    


Roe, Row, Roe                       

roe: fish eggs
row: oar a boat
Roe: an anonymous plaintiff who opened up
the way to row your                      
boat relatively
gently through the currents, but now you’re careening
down (not gently at all)
the turbulent

merrily no longer a word used for you          
merrily no longer describes how you act
merrily, or rather, merry no more

life (your life)
is decided by the state, no if and or             
but about it, and becomes not just
a disturbing                   
dream, but a nightmare


The world watched         

the knee on his neck,
on his neck,
heard bystanders call         
Stop! Stop!
saw him die.

Not by a rope
or an ordinary bigot
but by a peace officer.

The knee was death
but it also screamed                             

The knee became the boot                    
they’d felt since slavery,
since emancipation—

booted away from the voting booth                           
blocked from first-rate schools
booted away from good jobs
blocked from access to credit, to mortgages,
to the suburbs.

Protests flowed
in city after city,
as people—black, brown, white—
poured into the streets,
oozed into civic centers and shopping areas,
into high rent districts and suburbs,
cheered on by residents at their windows
or joined by them.

Was it the video?
Was it the sight of tear gas and rubber bullets,
of police batons used against peaceful marchers?

Or was it the numbers in the streets,
day into night, day into night?
Was it the grief
or was it the rage
that suddenly made so many
realize the deep need for change?


What good can come

from the mass graves
discovered in Bucha, Izium,
Mariupol, Pravdyne

bodies of soldiers
and civilians alike
tossed aside
by the invaders—
hardened criminals,
unrestrained recruits,
to do what they will:
cut off ears, nose, tongue,
electric-shock, rape, torture,
brutalize any way they can,
and finally, shoot point-blank.                

Will monuments be erected,
like at Babi Yar,
impotent reminders?      

Might crops flourish in Ukrainian earth
made fertile by decaying bodies                            
and what Rupert Brooke called
their red sweet wine?

Can any good come of this?


Social issues are a major focus of Milwaukee poet Phyllis Wax. Among the anthologies and journals in which her poetry has appeared are: Writers Resist, Portside, Jerry Jazz Musician, Rhino, Your Daily Poem, Rise Up Review, Birdsong, Spillway, Peacock Journal, Surreal Poetics, Naugatuck River Review, New Verse News, Vultures and Doves. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, as well as the Best of the Net and Bettering American Poetry anthologies. Reach her at: