Anthropology Magazine
Poem / Reflections

We All Love Roses

SAPIENS Poet-in-Residence Jason Vasser-Elong reflects on horrific cycles of violence—and highlights injustices that are often papered over.
A bouquet of red roses rests on top of a wooden coffin in a church under a stained-glass window.

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We All Love Roses - Listen
1:22

Some say it’s human nature to kill
and that we all have bias,
but we are not blind to violence,
and can read the signs.

The tragedy is that the narrative
persists with different characters,

one sad story after another—
and time passes only to repeat,
a refrain, a litany of terrible, I mean

how hard must the hearts of them be
who find value in the pain of others,

we know what it is
and what it looks like—
but somehow the trick
is to claim insanity; to be “mental” is enough
for some to be taken away in handcuffs,

while others are shot down or strangled
beaten beyond recognition
for failing to signal, stopped
at the intersection of rage and reason
where there is an opportunity
to keep straight.

Where is peace if not in a garden—
but even there they prowl and devour
and do what comes as natural as rain
spilling onto flowers.

We see them growing among us
recognize their nature,
some can even call them by name
as they bloom and are admired
in place of shame,

yet we all love roses,
thorns and all.

Jason Vasser-Elong’s research focuses on identity in a postcolonial context. He is the 2022 SAPIENS poet-in-residence. He studied anthropology and later received his MFA from the University of Missouri, St. Louis, where he is currently a doctoral student in the college of education. Vasser-Elong is the author of the poetry collection Shrimp. His essay “Treading the Atlantic” was presented at the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Netherlandic Studies conference as an introduction to the keynote lecture on postcolonial memory. He also presented that essay at the American Anthropological Association’s conference “Truth and Responsibility” in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jvasserelong.

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