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Water is a human right: Poetry in Defense of Flint, Michigan

This special feature section, "In Defense of Flint," is a partnership between The People’s Tribune of Chicago and Caravel in response to the contamination of the city of Flint's water supply. Many of the poems here were published in April 2016 as a special insert to The People's Tribune for National Poetry Month. The People’s Tribune has been covering the Flint water crisis for over two years.  Please visit for more information on the Flint water crisis and other issues facing our society today.

"In Defense of Flint" features poetry from: Adam Gottlieb, Elizabeth Marino, Alex Barbera, Michelle Saltouros, Lewis Rosenbaum, Jill Charles, Yoges V R, David-Matthew Barnes, Gino Figlio, Daniel de Cullá, and Angelina Llongueras.



for the children of Flint,

Chicago, and everywhere


often, driving down lake shore drive

on a blue-skied day

sunlight glittering off the lake

and all the city’s buildings


i think how beautiful it is,

and also – yes – how ugly


and how much more beautiful it will be

when all the city’s children

are living lives fit for children


free to swim in

and drink from the lake


with pure water

fit for a lake


-Adam Gottlieb








The Indian film Water opens with a child bride,

newly widowed, and sent to live among monks.

Much surface beauty – pools and waterfalls and water poured.

The barren yet contemplative lives made my teeth ache.


What sustains us more than water? Subcontractors profiting by 4 cents

rather than 2? South Africa, Haiti – it could never happen here.

Cholera is for other, poorer, privatized or disaster-prone places.

Across this country there are lead-leaching water systems

But we’ll get to the infrastructure repairs. Someday.

Before another Flint or shuttered Detroit.


I can remember when we once had public utilities. Water

was one such utility, provided by our local governments,

as an essential product from our common civic life.


-Elizabeth Marino 





The Water Condemns You

The water condemns you

Heavy with the lead of fiscal responsibility

The clear see-through seer rages:

“Your prudence is poison.”

The people condemn you

Stomachs sick with the angry water

They line the streets of the city shouting:

“Let water be life to our bodies!”

The water condemns us all.

We have gone too far now.

We cannot discern medicine from disease,

sickness from solution.

Our minds are murky,

our systems have shed their sense of servitude.

This is the symbolism of contaminated things:

the game becomes the obligation of its players.

So if anyone doubts the politics of Profit

Or the anarchy of The Bottom Line

Let them run a bath in Flint,


And soak condemned in the water’s revenge.

-Alex Barbera






To the Brothers and Sisters of Flint, Michigan

I am sorry.
I know that is not enough.
I hear they are making you pay for water,
as though that is what truly comes out of your pipes,
I hear they knew for longer than we ever could have,
I hear they can threaten to take away your growing families

if you do not put up with it, I hear

they ask you to put up with it.
I hope you don't.
I hope you throw water balloons at their open windows,
let them splatter through the screens,
soak into their legal documents,
cover their family photos. I hope

you wield squirt guns,
and run through the city like children again,
spraying every suit you can find,
soaking their ironed out wrinkles,
they're protective dry cleans.

Tell them lead is the new gold.

That everyone is talking about it,
people are even paying for it nowadays.
Tell them burnt brown is the new black,
it makes Greed as clear as water,
practically see-through,
so easy to rid it of stains.
I haven't written your name down enough times.
And I know we will never be able to speak of you enough,
never find the right number of times to say your name
over dinner, in passing, as loud as we can.
And now talk of the primaries has overshadowed you, and
I can't help but think you sit there and wonder
who is least likely to poison my children
I do not know the answer.
I am not sure there is one.


-Michelle Saltouros





It’s Not the Same River


“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”  Heraclitus, 535-475 BCE

“We are all related” – Lakota prayer


Ninety-six percent of water on earth is saline.

The water swimming in my cells,

The water that bathes my cells,

The water coursing in my bloodstream,

All of it is saline.

We cannot drink salt water.


Aquifers make up thirty percent of the four percent that is fresh water.

Lying deep beneath the arid desert,

Beneath the flat Midwestern plains,

Beneath the big-sky buttes of Montana,

Beneath the putrid oil wells of the Texas panhandle.

California almonds drink this water when people cannot.

Nestlé bottles what the people may not drink.


The amount of water used to supply the world’s golf courses

Is the same as the amount that could supply all the world’s people.

Japan had 23 golf courses before World War II.

They found their error

And built three thousand courses.

An anti-haiku.


Lake Huron is the third largest fresh water lake on earth.

Flint, Michigan, lying near the shores of Lake Huron,

Started using Flint River water instead.

(It takes its name from the Ojibwe language, when the river ran pure).

But river water flowed past the industrial factories

That built Flint, and  discharged chemical waste

Turning clear water a muddy brown,

Infected with retch-inducing odors,

Cancer-causing chemicals and corrosive salts

That leached lead from the pipes in lethal doses.

When people showered,

Water brought rashes and pain to their bleeding skin.


Sixty percent of the human body is water.

We humans need water more than we need food.

Why do capitalist private profiteers get to drain our aquifers?

Flint is a lesson and a call to wake up.

No one can make the babies come back,

But we can have clean, free water for all


By ending the rule of private property

That protects golf courses and

Preys upon the lives of our people.

We are all related.


-Lewis Rosenbaum






Truth Leaks Out


She sweats in August

Wipes her baby’s face

Can’t bathe him

In the sink anymore

Tapwater rashes

Sting his skin.


Laundry mounds up

Like lies from downtown

Flint’s water is safe.

Truth leaks out

They sold her city.


A few bottles given

By the church or Red Cross

By neighbors who can

Barely afford a gallon jug.


America is a rich country

She never visits.


Factory doors here

Boarded up like scars

Where Dad worked, where Mom worked,

Where Grandma and Grandpa first met

Among the sparkplugs.


Every day she types applications

On the library computer,

Interview shoes

Pinching sweaty feet.


She imagines

A bubble bath for her son

A wading pool in the yard

A crystal blue water cooler.


-Jill Charles                     





City in distress

Elixir of Life

Turned Poison for people

City in Distress


Words can’t heal

Human Suffering

That Words can't heal - but our

Joint actions can



A City in Pain

A Country Blind to its pain

Hale Demo-crazy!


-Yoges V R







How could you know about the mark

you bear and wear? It’s invisible to the naked

eye. Corporations wish they couldn’t

see you. While you thirst, they swim

in rivers banked with gold. Sipping

sweet tea, frozen daiquiris, ice

water with slices of lime over power

lunches, ignoring those who are parched

enough to sip to survive. They poison

your children. Flint is a burial ground

you must unearth. They know water

has become currency, fuel. God

sees all, including the shameful oceans

of poverty they’ve drowned you in. Blink

and you will the miss opportunity to drink

from the fresh fountain of your natural

flowing freedom.


-David-Matthew Barnes






Listen to me


This is important

I will bathe you in an ocean

If I could only see

The sickness leave you


I will plunge us

Into the depths

Of the subconsciously ineffable


If you teach me to swim

Among the wreckage

Listen, listen, dear


1,000 miles from here there is

A better world. But why


Why can't we have it here? Why

can't your ship be near?


-Gino Figlio








When I saw Bridges’ Pic

I had them with everything

including myself, the river and land.

These appear as “gurus”

feeling in love

with these pieces of Sky and Earth

wanting aloneness, space, peace

and clarification of our needs

and I began to root in them

for awhile.

These are any iron road that we could follow

without preconception:

an entrance and exit into the World¡

I thought of them

as our own personal Buddha:

The one that was going to show us the way

to Live and Pass on Earth

two bridges that only together do they Exist

the Old and the New

as a whole.

Who am we?

Asses trapped in between packsaddles and bridges

to recognize  our nature

to clarify all our needs

and the quietness of an afternoon

reviving songs

that fill all senses, all forms, all space, all rivers

all these symbols, all our thoughts:

Old and New

New and Old

Life and Death

Weak and Strong

Happy and Bad

Black and White

Woman and Man.

The Old Bridge and the New Bridge

are in the growth of our wisdom

to recognize our nature

to clarify all our dreams

and the plain truth:

That we come to live and pass

on Earth.


               -Daniel de Cullá




Conception sea

...that of the young sweaty bodies of my parents penetrating each other in the allowed matrimonial bed, in Franco regime Spain that had stolen so much life from them. At the hour of the siesta, after bathing in a nearby beach where they came to be anointed with the salt and the sun. With spare time at last to give way to their desire and lust...


Childhood sea


...of crammed beaches where oily bodies get toasted among towels and umbrellas, blaring portable radios, bread and tomato sandwiches and piles o garbage, next to pine forests and ongoing construction, eating tribal rice and seafood, floating on rubber tires and using underwater glasses to look at the then remaining seahorses...sea of fishermen that auction off the fish they got with their tiny boats and women who sew the gaudy colored nets in the boats with every day common names...a sea of plastic shovels and buckets and sand castles. And mom shouting «hey kids, enough is enough, look at your wrinkled fingers, get out of the water, time to go back home...»


First love sea


On the fierce North Sea, of the metal gray colour of a sky filled with clouds, at the restaurant at the end of the pier on Scheveningen beach...a sea with the sound of violins that come to play at our table as I dare to raise my face and get stuck for ever  in the depth of your blue eyes...where many years later, when you die, I make an offer of a white rose from a distant continent...

Mythical legendary sea


..of the travellers who cannot find their way home where their wife weaves and un-weaves and fills herself with patience to get rid of false lovers and wait for the faithless true one, because on the islands of the return there is an abundance of mermaids, witches and cyclops..

..sea of the young virgins sacrificed to the gods of war that raise the winds and the sails where there was before the dead calm of  the stagnation of the unbearable, sea of the revengeful wives who murder the warriors who came back with a loot of young slaves forced to have sex while prophesizing a fate of doom that nobody believed and everyone endured for generations...

Pain and suffering sea

...where millions of radioactive dying fish scream their senseless extinction, where the whales come show us their collective suicide, where hungry Somalian pirates look for  a pittance of the food stolen from their people by the industrial navies of corporate fishing that leave no life behind, where the oil companies dump their poison so as to madden cormoran birds, where Bibical tsunamies avenge the soul of the sea by laying waste to the coastal lands, where the plastic bags shape islands of death, where genocidal fleets filled with missiles and  drones take a ride,  where so many lives have drowned while escaping from computer engineered misery and devastation, where everything has turned to mourning, heartbreak and blunder.

Home forever sea


... you who hear and understand everything. Limitless freedom space that allow us to see, and grow, and live, and enjoy, and understand...


Eternal, infinite, inscrutable sea to which I will always come back, even when this planet of ours , this spec, won't be a presence any more,  won't even be a remembrance in the cosmic memory of the universe.

-Angelina Llongueras


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