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Cento / Public Action 2014

On Friday March 28, 2014, poets and activists gathered in DC's Lafayette Square Park to create a Cento--a group poem composed solely of lines taken from different authors--on the topic of government surveliance. Participants were asked to bring a line, exceeding no more than 12 words, that celebrates the free exchange of ideas and/or speaks out against the surveillance state. The result was the following poem.

View photos from the event here!

Anne Waldman reads her line at the 2014 Cento. Photo by Kristin Adair.


Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.

Even the finch has time to itself, away from the hawk.

The heron does not ask where I came from,
where I’m going.

We are not who
you think we are,
but more.

I want transparency
to be a beautiful word again
not a sign of danger ahead.

Tax money is the shovel
by which I dig my own grave.

My heart never gave permission
to the pulse of my blood.

?Tormenta de electricidad?
!Nuestras voces!
Tumbamos los ojos artificades del gobierno.

A poem can interrupt a war
the fragile bliss of mystery restored.

Your silence will
not protect you.

Dressing for peace rally
Where’s my black underwear, NSA?

sacred words are in danger
sing them, shout them
teach them…
amulets against amnesia.

The chemical didn’t leak information into Elf River
Charleston, West Virginia.

Unknown algorithms
twist over words
like wires until they ignite.

I fling my free words
into the free air
for friends to catch.

Being captured is beside the point—
the point is not to surrender.

We can’t go on together with suspicious minds (suspicious minds).

Goodnight, moon!
Goodnight, stars!
Goodnight, federal
contractors now
spying on us…

I can’t spout in a chlorinated tank;
can’t echolocate off your concrete.

We do not fear you—
poetry is our eyes, hands, mouths.

Only three states
before the war, during the war
after the war.

Live as if no one
is watching, live
because you know
they’re watching.

Beware of becoming so
far gone you are stalking
your own face.

Many a head has bent
over a book and asked
many a Question.

Reconcile waking with sleeping,
ourselves with each other
ourselves with ourselves.

Do I look like the enemy?
Have I not only words?

There will never be technology
to decrypt the power of love & family.

Where’s my 4th Amendment?
Where’s my 4th Amendment?
Where’s my 4th Amendment?

You can read my words
don’t edit rough draft thoughts.

Freedom is a seed, a plant, a prayer
a chant, a cyclone.

Hi, I’m a grown man
I don’t need you to watch me.

That we should get away
from every place – every
Abu Ghraib as always
the exonerated.

To break the raging silence
our bold voices rise
more fiercely kind.

Deep river of justice overflow
and drown, drown cameras
obscuring sight.