“we’re still learning, please bear with us,” “left behind on the fourth of July” and “Warm Bodies”

Issue 41 by Jerome Berglund

“we’re still learning, please bear with us,” “left behind on the fourth of July” and “Warm Bodies”

we’re still learning, please bear with us

after hearing some

rousing speeches from

several eloquent organizers

off the cuff, exclusively

including a young woman

who was George Floyd’s cousin

shared a heartfelt

and energizing tribute

the small solemn and intimate

gathering of perhaps a hundred

concerned citizens who’d responded

to an online call for marchers

learned that the plan was to fold in

with a much larger action

scheduled to commence shortly

across the city

parking in that delineated area

being somewhat notoriously horrendous

I would probably have eschewed

participating in the second rally

had a gentleman of a similar mind

not chimed up his intentions to

march there on foot

welcoming any interested

to join him in the journey

a ragtag bunch

of delightful human beings

(if mostly Caucasian, humorously)

answered this call

myself included

and of the marches I have so far

had the privilege of attending

our little splinter group’s

sub voyage between one mass

and another proved to be

among the most pleasant

interesting ventures

have experienced to date

space will not permit

comprehensive detailing of

our eventful sojourn

so please enjoy two of

its most striking anecdotes

we managed among our

modest party of less than a dozen

to keep up a pretty impressive

stream of protest chants

along our way

(far better than the larger action

later achieved, I’ll say with a wisp of pride)

but between our fewer heads

boasting no professional rally leads

we recalled a somewhat limited

repertoire, which led to some

wracking of brains to recollect

past favorites and keep

our set-list varied and fresh

along the route through urban

Minneapolis neighborhoods

we were navigating

one I broke out

when we were really grasping

and scraping the bottom of the barrel

I had to disclaim probably I was

too white to be leading

but noted it had been a crowd favorite

at another big march I’d

recently attended

it went like this:

Bow down Babylon

Black people are the bomb

We ready, yeah yeah

We ready, yeah yeah

my colleagues tested it out

rolling awkwardly off our tongues

and it admittedly rung somewhat falsely

was far less impactful than had been

when a seasoned black female activist with

a megaphone on the back

of a truck was leading it

this sparked a respectful

but firm discussion of race

and appropriation

what could, should

contrarily shouldn’t be said

by whom

ideally

“But my cousin is black?”

interjected the jovial chap

(who gave me water

twice later when I was

quite dehydrated

God bless him)

leading our way

“That’s not how it works bro!”

...

“No, my cousin... This guy.”

he gestured to the kid

walking beside him

on a bicycle

“Hello,” his cousin said

shyly

“Ah, okay then.”

it takes a measure of courage

and gusto to try to

direct a chant

but it’s worth getting out

of your comfort zone

and attempting to start them up

wherever silence

is too long lingering

whenever you can summon

the courage

smaller gaggles

are amazing places to start

and a set-up where one invariably

has little choice in the matter

because the energy otherwise

just gets unpleasantly grim

becomes distinctly plodding, stolid as a Bataan

Death March without it

whereas with the stirring collaborative

performances things transform

and arouse great gratification and spurring

participants exhibit the feelings

of an ameliorative force on the move

some peace corps spreading good vibes

and advancing a cause

winning over one local heart and mind

at a time

from the panoply

of familiar, most effective slogans

the overwhelming favorite

at every action I’ve attended recently

is simple but versatile

yet requires some concentration

from those conducting it

as we were working

our way through

the playbook

I took a crack

at it early on

the concept is simple

a traditional call and repeat

you might hear in a black church

or during martial marches

associated with basic military training

but the way this one proceeds,

one person shouts it out

then after a beat

the multitude repeats

amplifying in unison

at a more ringing volume

so I made a stab

from memory

as best I could:

Black lives they matter here.

BLACK LIVES THEY MATTER HERE.

Hmong lives they matter here.

HMONG LIVES THEY MATTER HERE.

Somali lives they matter here.

SOMALI LIVES THEY MATTER HERE.

Your life it matters here.

YOUR LIFE IT MATTERS HERE.

Our life it matters here.

OUR LIFE IT MATTERS HERE.

Her life it matters here.

HER LIFE IT MATTERS HERE.

His life it matters here.

HIS LIFE IT MATTERS HERE.

and so on

concluding

trailing off as we tend to

at the ends

I felt reasonably confident

thought it had been comprehensive enough

hadn’t butchered too egregiously

then a new friend I’d just made

chimed in with all

the wisdom and precocity

of a high school senior

and nonjudgmentally added a few verses

I’d conspicuously omitted

unintentionally

Women’s lives they matter here!

WOMEN’S LIVES THEY MATTER HERE.

Trans lives they matter here.

TRANS LIVES THEY MATTER HERE!

Disabled lives they matter here!

DISABLED LIVES THEY MATTER HERE!

Native lives they matter here.

NATIVE LIVES THEY MATTER HERE!

Latino lives they matter here.

LATINO LIVES THEY MATTER HERE!

etc.

I grinned, smacking myself

in embarrassment

Women’s lives!

how could I possibly

have missed those

or any one of the rest

but I had

I did not the next time

nor did anyone again

in our many improvisations

and experimentations

with that catchy anthem

I hope I never

will again

anywhere

or anytime

left behind on the fourth of July

seemed appropriate enough

my own fault ostensibly

you see we well-intentioned foot soldiers

for racial justice were directed

to incorporate our marching

in with a ‘roll for justice’

employing wheeled participants specifically

on bicycles, skateboards, roller blades

and in jolly vehicles

which was great fun

and quite a sight

most assuredly

however, I would never recommend

attempting to keep pace with

such a brigade

on foot

the sweepers and parade guards

securing the streets at the vanguard

and peripheries

blocking off safe passage

at stop lights

grew progressively irate at the

walkers throughout as we found ourselves

further and further behind

the frontrunners

we slowed and inconvenienced

their keeping up with the greater

bulk moving at a significantly

faster clip

commands got more terse

I was directed from the road

to the sidewalk

eventually our

foot patrol holding the rear

were entirely abandoned

after being left further

and further behind for some

little while leading up to it

fair enough

in a utilitarian sense

fool on us

for attempting such

an impossible feat

still, it did give me pause

made me consider the difficulty

differently abled

and those with significant

disparities of resources

being expected to match pace

with those possessing more conducive

modes of transportation

along the continuum

this put everything into glaring

focus and crystal clarity

provided a fine microcosm

and figurative example

I thought, walking alone

after losing them completely

over many miles of lonely road

back to where I’d parked

eternally grateful to find

a slushy I was able to purchase along the way

to stave off desiccation

bordering upon sun stroke

over what in total

was about six hours of marching

without sunscreen

on a ninety-degree day

but whenever I thought I had it bad

always reminded myself

of that heroic guy

stubbornly keeping pace

across half the city

carrying a ten foot tall

five-foot wide

wooden fist effigy

seen him at nearly

every protest

something positively Christ-like

about that dude

the way he does that

for real

Warm Bodies

a haiku

not good for much but

I’m here and breathing needed

can be of some use

About the Author

Jerome Berglund

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A graduate of the University of Southern California’s Cinema-Television Production program, Jerome Berglund spent a picaresque decade in the entertainment industry before returning to the midwest where he was born and raised. Berglund has published short stories in Paragon Press’s Veisalgia, the Stardust Review, and the Watershed Review, a play in Iris Literary Journal, and poetry many places including Abstract Magazine, the Dewdrop, Wild Roof, Lychee Rind, deLuge, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, GRIFFEL, Cathexis Northwest Press, and Ulalume Lighthouse.