laomatz licensed
Concrete Image
by Laura Glenn

En route to a poetry reading
I stumble on a square of sidewalk
with a crude sketch of a swastika. Startled
to see this in my liberal town,
and hoping it’s chalk I can wash away,
I stick my foot in a curbside puddle,
and rub the emblem
with the wet sole of my shoe,
then briskly walk on.

After the reading,
I retrace my steps
to see if the symbol remains.
It wasn’t chalk—
tossed on the grass, I note
a jagged triangle
of broken sidewalk
whose coarse edge was used
to etch hatred.

Moving closer, I find
someone has transformed
the swastika into
a foursquare grid—
and with two deft strokes
scratched an upcurved roof,
protecting this “house” where
an Asian ideogram now appears
in each square “room.”

Someone has turned the concrete page.
I can’t read the characters;
still, they erase my fear.
I can do this too, I think—
though I hope I never have to—
transform symbols of hate
into four squares, say a window,
with an abstract landscape, maybe break
the pattern in one square, in case
I need to escape.

PHOTO:  Chinese character “wu” (dance) on cement canvas. Photo by Laomacz, used by permission.

draw over

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Not a traditional “How To” poem, “Concrete Image” depicts an experience that showed me something that can be done when confronted with a hateful symbol. It is based on an incident that took place in 2019, before the pandemic. Dismayed at the sight of a swastika carved into the sidewalk in my hometown, I attempted to remove it. A little later, I was heartened to see that the image had been turned into something else. Then, I discovered that transforming graffiti of swastikas into other things had become a form of street art and a meme. Hate crimes in this country have been on the rise, targeting many different groups of people, but there seem to be more and more creative attempts to ameliorate some of the damage.

PHOTO: In California, a property manager tried to obscure the hate symbol by etching additional lines (2009).  Photo found in the Orange County Register

L. Glenn

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Glenn’s book of poems I Can’t Say I’m Lost was published by FootHills, and her chapbook When the Ice Melts by Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including The Antioch Review, Boulevard, Cortland Review, Epoch, Green Mountains Review, Hotel Amerika, Massachusetts Review, Pedestal, Poet Lore, Poetry, Smartish Pace, and Rattapallax, as well as in anthologies. She has completed work on another full-length manuscript of poems, and is working on a chapbook of pandemic-related poems. Also a visual artist, she lives in Ithaca, New York, where she works as a freelance editor. Visit her at lauraglennpoetandartist.com.

AUTHOR PHOTO: Laura Glenn with Liu Jianhua’s installation, Collected Letters, in the background.