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Natasha Huey (she/her/hers) reads the poem, "Field Trip to the Museum of Human History" by Franny Choi.

"Field Trip to the Museum of Human History" will appear in The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On, forthcoming 2022 Ecco Books.

Natasha Huey:

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My name is Natasha Huey, and I'm a poet.

And today I'll be reading Franny Choi's poem "Field Trip to the Museum of Human History." And I chose this poem because  I'm really inspired by work  that makes tangible—makes sensory— the worlds we need to live in, where everyone has their needs  met so we're not only experiencing  vividly what we need to resist  but what we're reaching towards. And this poem in particular really highlights how systems that feel so entrenched, so immovable, like prisons or police, are  not only brutally violent but impermanent and can and will be deconstructed.

And imagining that future,  particularly through the eyes  of young people who don't know anything different, is energizing to me to commit to daily work that I'm responsible for, to help realize that future. Everyone had been talking about the new exhibit, recently unearthed artifacts from a time no living hands remember. What twelve year old doesn’t love a good scary story?

Doesn’t thrill at rumors of her own darkness whispering from the canyon? We shuffled in the dim light and gaped at the secrets buried in clay, reborn as warning signs: a “nightstick,” so called for its use in extinguishing the lights in one’s eyes. A machine used for scanning fingerprints like cattle ears, grain shipments.

We shuddered, shoved our fingers in our pockets, acted tough. Pretended not to listen as the guide said, Ancient American society was built on competition and maintained through domination and control. In place of modern-day accountability practices, the institution known as “police” kept order using intimidation, punishment, and force.

We pressed our noses to the glass, strained to imagine strangers running into our homes, pointing guns in our faces because we’d hoarded too much of the wrong kind of property. Jadera asked something about redistribution and the guide spoke of safes, evidence rooms, more profit. Marian asked about raiding the rich, and the guide said, In America, there were no greater protections from police than wealth and whiteness.

Finally, Zaki asked what we were all wondering: But what if you didn’t want to? and the walls snickered and said, steel, padlock, strip search, hard stop. Dry-mouthed, we came upon a contraption of chain and bolt, an ancient torture instrument the guide called “handcuffs.” We stared at the diagrams and almost felt the cold metal licking our wrists, almost tasted dirt, almost heard the siren and slammed door, the cold-blooded click of the cocked-back pistol, and our palms were slick with some old recognition, as if in some forgotten dream we did live this way, in submission, in fear, assuming positions of power were earned, or at least carved in steel, that they couldn’t be torn down like musty curtains, an old house cleared of its dust and obsolete artifacts. We threw open the doors to the museum, shedding its nightmares on the marble steps, and bounded into the sun, toward the school buses or toward home, or the forests, or the fields, or wherever our good legs could roam.