Poem of the Week | November 09, 2020

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Exposure Therapy” by J.J. Hernandez!

J.J. Hernandez is a poet in Fresno, California. He holds an MFA in poetry and served as the inaugural fellow in the Laureate Lab: Visual Wordist Studio under Juan Felipe Herrera. His work has been supported by the Community of Writers Workshop, he reads for The Offing Magazine, and you can see some of his work in Tinderbox, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The Acentos Review, Crab Orchard Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The McNeese Review, and The American Poetry Review.


Exposure Therapy

Is it cruel
to let a baby squirrel
suffer after it falls
from a redwood?
Is it more cruel
to bash it once with a shovel
and throw it in the green trash can?

90s rock bands dared

              the world to end.

Maybe it is, or maybe
it is the unending cycle of ends
where the mode is changed,
not the end result.

And the children sing:
The rains came down
and the floods came up.
And the moon is red from ash.
Fire is the next promise.
Can we handle it?

I can’t handle watching

              something die.

A white dude
in camouflage
climbs to the top
of a freeway
overpass & sits,
leisurely waiting
to jump,
& by the time
I turn around,
he does, only
to catch himself
at the last minute.
He climbs back over
into the arms
of a waiting
police officer—
something I don’t

Sometimes the human need

              is to be touched.

A baby squirrel’s cry sounds
like a dog chew toy
that is compressed
over and over.

I am versed in Christianity:
I know the bb gun
that kills crows,
the heeled shovel
that cuts the heads off snakes,
the hand that pulls
the adrenal innards
from screaming rabbits.

I know the Jordan Peterson types
argue that we are weaker
as a society, because
we know not the violent.
A Pentecostal church deacon
tells me that our military
is weak because we don’t fight
enough. I wonder how cold
we have become
as a nation.

I have ignored
the cries of young children
in cages, of old farm workers
whose heads were sprayed
with the same malathion
that I bought to rid
my yard of meat bees—
These same farmworkers work without
complaint in raining ash and unforgiving sun.

And my father cries in prayer,
because he wants me to go to church
with him at his new start up.
I’ve ignored this, too, for months.

Is apathy a symptom
of our cronyistic system?
Have I given up?
Do I feel that we can’t
help but lose anymore?
I love the ballads
about peoplepower, but
the Republikans keep trying
to play Rage Against the Machine
at their rallies.

I love the Tower of Babel
in the Bible and the scope
of human ingenuity,
when even god
says he can’t stop us.

Maybe the myth

              is there so we don’t

I left a squirrel to die
in my ash filled yard
I need to do more for god


Author’s Note

“Exposure Therapy” is a poem that I wrote in response to a prompt from a local Fresno artist, who wanted me to write about Día de Los Muertos and the travesties caused by this current political administration. The poem is attempting to deal with my own religious upbringing and coming to grips with my unbelief, as well as my apathy towards both the cronyistic system in late stage capitalism and death. In the poem, I always feel: I can do more. In life I feel that I need to do more.