Gnashing Teeth Publishing

| words that get in your teeth

500-word DEI Statement by Dario Cvencek

the root of the English
word SLAVE comes from
the eastern European
ethnic group SLAVS
who were enslaved
in such large numbers
during the Middle Ages
that their name became
synonymous with
servitude throughout
Western languages

words are stuff of murder

I was born into one
of the South Slavic tribes
the history of my people
is that of oppression
bloodshed and

my appearance is that
of a white man
but my lived
experience is that
of a refugee
an immigrant
wherever I go
they call me:
“an alien”

one day I was
walking home
from lunch at my
grandma’s house
I heard the gunshots
they were close
I saw the bullets
landing around me
they were very close

I froze

a friend of my parents’
ran over and grabbed me
and carried me to safety

I was 12 years-old and
I had just learned
A new word – sniper

words are stuff of killing

for the next 7 months
we were bombed




when a grenade is launched
it makes a popping sound
then there’s silence
then you hear it flying
and accelerating
before it hits

you can also smell it
as it burns its way
through the
sweltering air

we’d spend warm summer
nights in a shelter
counting those pops
one time we got
to 1,000 and we
just stopped

sounds of something
being killed
inside you

7 months of sheer
terror and panic
and boredom
so much boredom
days melding
into one utterly boring
and incredibly long
summer afternoon

summer of ’92

my puberty lasted
several months
during which
I’ve witnessed things
no teenager ever should
like screams of “enemy
civilians” (our former
neighbors) or “our soldiers”
returning from front lines
with rows of
human ears
on their belts
like souvenirs

I grew up fast

at the age of 13
I was already bitter
and angry like
a middle-aged man
trapped in a toxic

generational trauma and
undiagnosed PTSD
are a powerful

the hangover can last
for decades

my first week in America
a police officer told me
to get the fuck back
where I came from

“words my master
they cut like a knife”
–Johnny used to sing

my first year of college
a cop held me at gunpoint
questioning me while
I kept my hands up
ten minutes straight
his gun pointed at me
the entire time
as I was trying
to explain that a guy
he was ticketing
for parking under
a “no parking here” sign
had just arrived from
Togo and didn’t speak
any English

my appearance is that
of a white man
but my words are not
my accent betrays me
the howls of
my ancestors
give away my

the advantage of my skin
color is skin deep
my white privilege lasts
only as long as I keep
my mouth shut

now I speak less
but I write more

words are my grenades
which I do not throw

Dario Cvencek is an immigrant poet from the Balkans. He started writing poetry in high school, inspired by his growing up during the Bosnian War in the 1990s, and his subsequent experiences as a refugee of war and an immigrant in Germany and United States. In his poems, he explores the themes of war, trauma, healing, and identity. He lives and works in Seattle, WA.

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