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Post-Assault Prescription When I Fear My Spirit Dying

By Diana Tokaji

To Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King, Jr.; and to my parents.

Here in the mud
of my history
beneath the rage
is counsel.

Where grace
expands like the air
under a bird’s wings
all day it seems,


to take the air
and ride it
is grace.

being lifted
by air
is grace.

I seek grace now
as my rage deepens
to hate.

As I see my own dreams –
the day ones
the night –

and witness my capacity
to do to another
real harm.

I return to silence
I am not saying
it is easy.

I return to silence
I am not saying
I will be quiet.

I return to silence
I am not saying
I won’t shout my grief
from the rooftops.

I am saying
Silence, old friend,

take me to wings
for the moment

lend me levity

remind my breath
of breath
beneath breath

and the untapped wisdom
beneath that.

Take me to updrafts
or wind loops
my father soared

that lifted my mother
when her grief
took hold.

They have been this path
these kings
these queens.

They have dug
to the deepest
of rage

to the place
where the body
is a volcano of anger

where hate is so tempting
it begins to
taste great

and you
to want it.


(The heart is a
blanket that lies
soft to the spine

she whispers
to the pounding heels:
Now! Even now –

face rosen
with the swelling of

stomach a gutter of
moral injury

hair torn
ragged from violation
in this backyard…)

is the heart’s banner
in 200 mph fear.

She pulse-flashes
in sky-fire across
my lacerated faith.

She glares down
the clutch of despair
in my gullet

singing glorified lyric
over hammering percussion:

Find silence!
Garner power!

And sweat-soaked in prayer,
incredulous with doubt

hardly the soaring bird and
ancient in the muck I

hear her start this
odd duet of continuance:

tether-tether, she whispers,
heels to the molten then


And I in my
mammal weight wonder


Walking in the
bones of a distant girl?
Mad gravel between two lips?

Even now,
she answers mercilessly

as if it’s simple.
As if it’s known.




Listen as Diana Tokaji reads "Post-Assault Prescription When I Fear My Spirit Dying."

Added: Thursday, February 6, 2020  /  Used with permission. Diana Tokaji’s poem was awarded First Place in the 2020 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest, sponsored by Split This Rock. Richard Blanco lent his generous acumen as judge for the contest.
Diana Tokaji
Photo by Maddie Brennan.

Diana Tokaji is the author of the resource book, SURVIVING ASSAULT: Words that Rock & Quiet & Tell the Truth. Her activist memoir, Six Women in a Cell: Survival and Sisterhood After Police Assault is forthcoming, as are Book of Essays Before I Die and a collection of poems spanning forty years. She was a finalist in the 2019 Knightville Poetry Contest with The New Guard.

Tokaji’s performance art blending spoken word and choreography has been featured in London, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, where her Fringe Festival productions won Pick of the Fringe. A certified yoga therapist since 1997, she trains professionals in unique strength-focused protocols for acute trauma care, work recognized by Maryland University of Integrative Health for “service and dedication to the community…and the larger world.”

Other poems by this author