In this poem by Harryette Mullen, the idea of Legacy is presented through the historic violence of dispassionate bureaucratic language, the policies of oppression, and slippages of their true significance. Through this form of text, Mullen outlines historical oppression of vulnerable people, with emphasis on the African diaspora.
We Are Not Responsible
by Harryette Mullen
We are not responsible for your lost or stolen relatives. We cannot guarantee your safety if you disobey our instructions. We do not endorse the causes or claims of people begging for handouts. We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. Your ticket does not guarantee that we will honor your reservations. In order to facilitate our procedures, please limit your carrying on. Before taking off, please extinguish all smoldering resentments. If you cannot understand English, you will be moved out of the way. In the event of a loss, you’d better look out for yourself. Your insurance was cancelled because we can no longer handle your frightful claims. Our handlers lost your luggage and we are unable to find the key to your legal case. You were detained for interrogation because you fit the profile. You are not presumed to be innocent if the police have reason to suspect you are carrying a concealed wallet. It’s not our fault you were born wearing a gang color. It is not our obligation to inform you of your rights. Step aside, please, while our officer inspects your bad attitude. You have no rights that we are bound to respect. Please remain calm, or we can’t be held responsible for what happens to you.
Page 124, Letters to the Future: Black Women / Radical Writing.
Harryette Mullen’s books include Recyclopedia (Graywolf, 2006), winner of a PEN Beyond Margins Award, and Sleeping with the Dictionary (University of California, 2002), a finalist for a National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A collection of essays and interviews, The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be, was published in 2012 by the University of Alabama. Her most recent book, Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary, was published by Graywolf in 2013. She teaches courses in American poetry, African American literature, and creative writing at UCLA.
Harryette Mullen’s “We Are Not Responsible” is part of KPI’s small experiments of radical intent series: Postcards to the Future: Protest in Place / LEGACY, to uplift and celebrate Black women’s voices, July-Nov 2020. Navigate through this series by following the tag Postcards, at left.