Kevin Coval

Everyday People Blog


all the pharaohs must fall

Posted by Kevin Coval |

Mohamed Bouazizi didn’t have a permit to sell fruit
didn’t have government permission to earn a living
to live.
the police took his fruit and slapped his face
he went to the governor’s office. they refused to see him
he poured paint thinner on his body
and lit the match

all the pharaohs must fall

we needed inspiration, to be awakened
in our bodies, our lives made present
here we are
the world is not right, just or fair
the most have the least
the least have the most

all the pharaohs must fall

all the kings of jordan
all the queens of england
all the bridges crumbling
dictators like dominos
israel is a pharaoh
and must fall. all the leaders
with colonial control
who ransack resources
in Africa, who steal
lives in east oakland
who protect jon burge

all the pharaohs must fall

all the pharaohs who reign
over fruitsellers and farmers
the world over
the world is over

all the pharaohs must fall

the tycoons and filthy rich
heads of state on the chopping block
chairmen ousted from their seats.
there are many ways to do this
the giant is waking, it is the body
of the people who have little
to fall back on. no doctor or bank
account. the people who hand to mouth
who check to check. all this
scrounging kept us occupied.
all the gathering of crumbs
left us looking at the ground
but the bodies ablaze have given
us literal whitman’s, at wits end
they sing the body electrocuted
incinerated, sparks to wake us in the war machine
wake us in the mineshaft stuffing richmen’s pockets
wake us in our second job, our second mortgage, our second marriage
wake us in the routinized mechanics of our own labor
wake us cleaning gold toilet bowls, searing foie gras
all security guards, fast food line cooks and cashiers
all barbers and teachers, basket weavers and tea makers
all field hands and construction workers
all women with needles and men with hammers
all bodies who drive or lift, who sweep or cook
every body who takes away, who takes orders
every body whose body needs a break or bus pass
who needs an eye exam or job or a better job
every body whose body is uninsured, under fed
unaccounted for by governments and corporations
who bureaucratize their love

wake in this new day
look around
neighbors are allies
we don’t have to compete with
we can ally and fight with them
there are more of us
who don’t drill or bomb or legislate
more of us who 3rd shift and wash dishes
more of us who forge papers and sneak over fences
more of us worried about unlawful arrests
and whose worry arrests in the night without sleep

wake in this new day
we will all die soon
let us live while we have the chance
while we have this day
to build and plot and devise
to create and make the world
this time for us
this time for all
this time the pharaohs must fall

if you did not etch metal into black ink and Black bodies
if you did not travel to learn with the Mexican muralists
if you and Charlie did not think African history important
enough to re/member and re/present in Black light:
Black thought, Black ideas held in Black minds
in Black brains
if you did not build an institution in your house and basement
if you did not have a door Don L. Lee could come to cuz he needed someone
to talk with who would overstand
if you were not here, Black arts wouldn’t have been
mothered in this city like it was.
the wall of respect wdn’t of risen and burned
in the imagination of the Southside
if you were not here, no Afri-Cobra
no South Side Community Arts Center
no institutions, no memory and image
of the Black body by Black bodies
for Black bodies
if you were not here, no honest portrayal of Beauty
nothing authentic, no celebration
of African forms
if you and Gwendolyn Brooks were not
classmates and sisters
no Carolyn Rodgers
no Angela Jackson
no Walter Bradford
if you were not here, no Black language
no Black poetic, no ritual of song
in this segregated Chicago

the lineage is you
and Gwendolyn
and Haki
and hip-hop
pro-Black centered words
which is to say true
words for once that stay
telling it how it is.
ALL the voices needed
you nurtured them

if you were not here, ALL those words and images
ALL those pro-human Black centered songs
of working and justice, celebrating the body’s
survival, ALL the poets you mother tongued
ALL the painters hands you poured kool-aid
colors in

if you were not here, generations of american artists would not be either
you rescued us from english classes
you pulled our ties off in cubicles and administrative posts
and took some off the block, posted on the corner
you told us to dream and imagine and build
our legacies on the shoulders of who came before
you made us believe Art is a language the people need
you saved us from the civil war in ourselves, this city, this country
you always lived among the people
Bronzeville whirling and warping by your doorstep
you are so Chicago, that way
a mess of family and pigeons
a house full of gems and germs
you were always doing your job
getting our minds right
telling the next generation (and the generation after and after that)
to be about something, this is what you left
and you left so much
and you will always be here
and you will always be
in a purple kaftan and headdress
with wild acid nikes and no socks on
cuz you stayed fresh like that
and you left Us the desire to be fresh
to make and tell
and re/tell
and re/make
and re/main
and re/member
and re/present
here, you are
a huge heart of the story
and in order to re/member ourselves
we must speak
your name



what will i tell my jewish kids (for the 5771)

Posted by Kevin Coval |

what will i tell my jewish kids
after Dr. Margaret Burroughs

who may not really know they are.
whose parents eat BLTs in the country
club and practice capitalism on the Sabbath.
whose suburb began voting conservative
in the generation after civil rights
whose great-grand father survived the shoah
and whose grandfather suffers Islamophobia.

what will i say to my little nieces and nephews
who celebrate christ’s mass, who hunt for easter
eggs, who like mel gibson movies, who adore
the white wash and wonder bread on pesach.
what will i tell my little homies who run out of gym
class asking why their cocks are cut, what will i say
when the girls noses grow, hair frizzes, hips widen
when they don’t look a damn thing like barbie.

what do i tell the bar-mitzvah boys who end up studying
man’s law before G-d’s. what will they understand
of pigeonholes in a pidgin their tongue has no taste for.
i will them: we are middle men, liminal women, go betweens
seams in babylon, alephs holding the sky and earth
together, synthesizers of the sacred and profane

we are bankers. pagans and christians thought it devils work
and we wanted to survive, so we are hustlers, pawn brokers
slumlords. the white folk who lived near Black folk. of course
we got into the music business, the exploitation. we love
the blues, the melancholy melodies remind us of our own
Chazzan. our own sorrow and diaspora. we George Gershwin-ed.
we blackened up. we wronged our neighbors. we connect a country
on the always brink of civil war.

we are a bridge people. red sea parters. translators
between the warring. we see connections. the i in i
the i in thou. Buber taught us that or was it Haile Selassie
or Freud. and what was it Marx demanded, we live as Moses
bent and davening toward justice. a radical equity where everything is
sacred or nothing is. Einstein to unify the chaos.
Emma Goldman to arrange the pieces.

i will certainly tell my jewish kids
of Goodman and Schwerner who died
with their brother James Earl Chaney.
that for a time, we were freedom riders
along with others, we were central
in the movement. hated jim crow
ourselves, for a time in this country
we were the Others, now we are other
than our selves.

i will tell my jewish kids
we have long story. more than what is seen
now. we are a people who wander and wonder
who have a bag prepared in the corner. i will
tell them israel is not a jewish state. it is
an empire state, a state against people
and a state against G-d. a G-d that is
borderless and nationless, a G-d that is
certainly without drone missiles and air
raids. in a jewish state no tank stands
between people seeking water or medicine.
israel is a farce, the guilt of the western world.
a christian admission of the holocaust.
a watchdog over oil. a stepchild power mad.
a baby country raging against everything
i know to be jewish. i will tell them, help dis-
mantle israel. Zion is yet to be, it is in the struggle
of becoming. this is the truth. it will venerate us
it will exodus, the truth will set us, free!


Falling Up: A Call to Arms (RIP Sole UAC)

Posted by Kevin Coval |

Falling Up: A Call to Arms
(RIP Sole UAC)

the factory he was painting on
used to manufacture paint. tomb
stone for the industrial age near
the stevenson express way, along
the south branch of the Chicago river.

Pilsen, Little Village, used to be
Back of the Yards, giant butcher
in the center of the country.

cops gave chase in an abandoned building.
whose interests were they serving. the city
didn’t protect the bodies working
while the factory smoked.

the building is a heap of grey rot.

graffiti artists tribute the hands
that sealed paint cans. conjurers
bringing life back.

graffiti writers are superheroes
who astound and scale the possible,
who defy gravity, who commemorate
and communicate in secret codes.

graffiti writers are the recorders
of a city rotting. painters of walls,
resisters of death and dying industry.

graffiti writers Upton Sinclair,
journalists investigating the g-d-
forsaken with aerosol.

graffiti writers can’t fly.

when Sole jumped off the roof
of the empty building, he thought
he could swim, maybe thought
the river would break his fall
and it did
break him
or maybe
the ghosts of the river
held him there. great leviathans
disporting themselves in the depths
of bubbly creek. there is
no oxygen in the water.
bloodworms feast on sunken
organs buried in the riverbed,
corpses slaughtered in the stockyard
decomposing for decades, entrails
and industry, the hands of workers
pushed out of job and home.

Sole choose to be free
Under A Crown, United Artists,
Crew of the working. he was
twenty-six, a year into marriage,
recently laid off. a city worker
remembering the left out, the margins
and maimed, the garnished wages
and real income of regular people,
in this city on a lake, plummeting
like stone off a roof top, a body
from the heavens, Sole falling
in the Chicago River
where workers and remnants
of slaughter disturb the water
bubble up, and sometimes
catch fire and burn.

* Upton Sinclair (1906). The Jungle. Chapter 9.


The Wall: 20 years after Berlin

Posted by Kevin Coval |

The night of Nov. 9... was the fulfillment of a dream. German Chancellor Angela Merkel

today concrete stretches into sky,
twenty-six feet high. drab slabs
cut into four hundred and thirty-six
miles of country. dominos to block
the sun. an accordion of cement,
strung like a clothes line, wheezing
a deep, lone note.

today in al-Ma’sara children
grab barbwire with bare hands. march
toward a wall soldiers protect with guns.
soldiers push the children back,
bloody their hands on barbwire.

today armed men push children in the holy land.

today in Berlin, people celebrate.
politicians give speeches. the east and west
battle to tell the story in the light
that most suits them. regardless
how it is spun, people demanded
the wall fall.

twenty years later, more walls.
nations erect walls to keep people out.
walls are static, ugly and stupid.
people are resilient, fluid and numerous.
people break walls.

The Court in The Hague said the wall
is illegal. the wall is Israel’s myopia.
america’s revisionism. the wall bulldozes
hundreds of Palestinian homes
in a shrinking, stolen land.

today in Qalandiya, protestors
tore one slat of wall down,
twenty years to the day the wall
in Berlin fell.

today Palestinians wear neon yellow
shirts, black block letters across their chest
coming thru jidar al fasal al unsari!
coming thru the wall of apartheid!
coming to the city of peace!
as long as the wall exists
the city will have no name!
sons and daughters of the city
coming to reclaim the name!

walls fall like dominos.
the earth moves and people
demand the freedom to move
as the earth does; the freedom
to see cousins, to buy olives,
to visit hospitals. walls fall
or get ripped down or knocked
over. people walk thru walls
like superheroes.

today the state of Israel builds a wall.
today a piece of the wall was toppled down.
today the people of Palestine and today the people
everywhere dream of peace, dream no walls,
dream of the day the wall will
come down, piece by piece.

Our Response to being Censored by J Street
by Kevin Coval and Josh Healey

This weekend, J Street, a new Jewish “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” PAC and Washington-based organization is holding its first national conference. The two of us, along with another artist, were to perform and read poems at several sessions during the conference. Specifically, we were invited to lead a workshop on how culture and spoken word create democratic spaces that sift through difficult issues and ensure a multiplicity of voices are heard: and how that can be used to open up the Israel/Palestine debate. Instead, we have been censored and pushed out of that very debate.

This week, some right-wing blogs and pseudo-news organizations latched on to various lines of poems Josh wrote and churned the alarmist rumor mill saying that hateful anti-Israeli poets are keynote speakers at the J Street conference. This is not surprising. The radical right-wing, including the growing Jewish right-wing of this country and abroad, hates complex discourse, especially when it brings to light truths they seek to systematically deny. The Weekly Standard, Commentary, and their AIPAC-influenced brethren have been attacking J Street for weeks, scared that the conference will bring together the majority of American Jews who do favor a more rigorous peace process. When they found Josh’s poems and took lines out of context, they had the perfect straw man: the Van Jones to J Street’s Obama. Again, this is not surprising.

What is disappointing, and troubling, is J Street’s response in caving to this sort of McCarthyism. The executive director of J Street called us to say “I know what I’m doing is wrong...but there are some battles we choose not to fight,” before canceling our program, and disinviting us from the conference. This accommodates their red-baiting and is the wrong response. Rather than give in, which only emboldens the right and legitimizes their attacks, we need to stand up for our principles and engage on that front. Van Jones is another perfect example: after the Fox News venom became too much and he resigned last month, the radical Right hasn’t stopped attacking Obama, or more accurately, the alternative, progressive voice they fear he represents. The Right stands by its politics, and practices solidarity with their allies. Too often the Left doesn’t. And that’s why we often lose – on health care, on global warming, and on Israel/Palestine.

For the second time in two months Kevin, who is Jewish, has been told not to come to a Jewish conference because of what he will say about Palestine and Israel. This past August, the evening before the International Hillel Conference, conference planners said if he were to read poems about Palestine, they’d rather not have him. Today, Josh, who is Jewish, has had his name thrown into a mudslide of blogs and hate emails. All this because we are practicing the Jewish maxim of the refusal to be silent in the face of oppression, anyone’s oppression.

One of the key teachings of Judaism is the insistence on wrestling with and debating ideas. There are a thousand years of codified arguing, recorded in the Talmud and Midrash, over the meaning of the stories in the five books of Torah. Jews debate everything. There is the old adage, “when you have two Jews in the room, you have three opinions”. Our families cannot come to agreement about what constitutes a deli as opposed to a diner. (A deli must have pickles on the table with poppy seed rolls, etc....)

But when you try to talk about Palestine there is silence. When you talk about the role the United States plays in supporting Israel and its military coffers, there is no room for discourse. If you bring up Palestinians’ right to return to land they were forced out of, or mention that this past January over 1400 Palestinians, mostly civilian, were killed in Gaza, there is no room to speak in Jewish-centric spaces in this country.

There are many reasons why this trend of censorship is disturbing. We believe in democracy, in the right to speak and be heard and in the right be disagreed with. We are disheartened and outraged by the lack of democratic discourse in the American Jewish community and within the country as a whole.

Why are we scared of what will come from an honest conversation? What do we have to lose, or discover, or admit to if we question the policies of Israel or America’s support of its government and military? It can be unsettling for one’s worldview to unravel, the intricate web of white lies and half-truths pulled apart. This can be disconcerting for generations of Jews who have accepted the propaganda of a chosen people and the acting out of geostrategic nightmares via military might.

Kevin works at a Hillel for Hashem’s sake! He is charged with the task of addressing why so many young Jews are distancing themselves from the religious and cultural practice of Judaism. This is one of those reasons! American Jews are told at shul to repent for our sins, but silenced if we bring up the sins of the country that acts in our name. We need authentic, honest discourse in the American Jewish community. It must start today and it must be about Palestine and Israel.

So, we are searching for a minyan—a crew of progressives and progressive Jews to build and connect with. We want to have a conversation. Not wait for the conversation to be dictated and have borders and walls built around acceptable topics, but to have a conversation determined by us, Jews That Are Left, that are on the Left. A conversation that is honest and open and genuinely reclaims and considers our progressive past as well as forges the future world. A conversation engaged in the work of tikkun olam for real, the work of repair and healing and wholeness.

Progressive American Jews where you at? Holla at us! For real: Let’s reshape the conversation. Let’s build a minyan, a coalition of progressive Jews and gentiles who want what is just and right for ALL people and all people in Israel and Palestine.

go to:
for an interview Josh did with Haaretz


Eulogy for J Def

Posted by Kevin Coval |

This is a poem dedicated to a student that I worked with who was murdered last spring. The event where the poem was presented was a peace and unity rally sponsored by the city of Chicago.