Civil Unrest
by Melisa Malvin-Middleton

I. Appalachian Fog

In the ’40s, you were the little Jew
with Horns

living in a trailer.
First, Oak Ridge hollers

so grandpa could help, unknowingly,
build the atomic bomb,

a hero, that scorched

II. Evanston Apartments

Safe outdoor sleep
on Lake Michigan

and neighbors crowded
around George and Gracie,

Benny and HUAC
on the first home screen.

III. Red Scare

Suspicion drove
the union family west

toward the songs of Richie Valens,
poodle skirts, and the scent

of orange blossoms
and smog’s lead veil

over pink houses and cacti,
white rocks on roofs.

IV. De Facto

Segregation spawned
the Pretty Hunger Striker,

who smoked her Virginia Slims,
and bore two under canvas

of burnt bras and grass,
while dreams smoldered.

V. Grandma’s Chevy

Station wagon—
we rode it seatbelt free

in back,
rear window open.

Yet the salmon hibiscus blooms you planted

IMAGE: “Hibiscus with Plumeria” by Georgia O’Keeffe (1939).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I approached “Civil Unrest” while thinking about how deeply linked we are to our ancestors and how their literal and figurative moves through life can shape our own paths. In particular, I considered how my maternal grandparents’ and my mother’s transitions through significant historical periods in American culture frequently connected to physical moves they made across the United States. Often these moves represented a shift to or from another era or place that signified the contradictions of the turmoil and personal growth they traversed. The moves my maternal grandparents and mother endured have been passed on to me, in that I carry more than the stories they told me of their histories; I carry the weight of their experiences as well; I embody their pain and their evolution. The torch of their moves has been gifted to me as my life progresses and I grieve their losses—in particular, my mother’s—and embrace the memory of them and their endurance in spite of all the obstacles and uncertainty they faced.


Melisa Malvin-Middleton
is a Los Angeles poet, playwright, and musician who teaches writing at California State University, Northridge and College of the Canyons. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Ofi Press and Clear Poetry, while her plays have been performed by Fresh Produce’d and Savage Players. This fall, her chapbook will be out with Yak Press. For more information visit melisamalvin.com.

PHOTO: The author at Castle Peak Park in West Hills, California.