Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Observing Pride Month through poetry

By Constance Alexander/For The Sentinel

June has been National Pride Month since 1970. Part celebration and part protest, the roots of this tribute to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community reach back to June 28, 1969, in New York City, when The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in lower Manhattan, was raided by police. Part of a pattern of harassment and social discrimination by law enforcement, the attack sparked six days of protests and galvanized the gay rights movement. America’s first pride parade was held on the one-year anniversary of Stonewall and has continued and proliferated around the U.S. and the world since then.

June also marks the anniversary of the slaughter at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where a single assailant, armed with an automatic weapon, killed 49 people and wounded 53 more. It was the deadliest shooting in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks, and the deadliest in modern American history until 2017, when a shooter in Las Vegas master-minded a massacre that killed 60 and wounded at least 413.

Constance Alexander wrote the poem, “Counting Coup” a few days after June 12, 2017, for a community memorial service at the First Presbyterian Church in Murray, Ky.

    Counting Coup

    By Constance Alexander

    For native American warriors, counting coup was a way to demonstrate bravery in war. Although killing was a part of war, the greater act of courage was to get close enough to touch the enemy.

    On this, the day after,
    we look back in anger
    fists clenched
    choking on prayers
    and platitudes
    the best we can do
    in the face
    of an automatic
    assault weapon.
    This, the best
    I can do,
    is a poem
    without rainbows
    or rhyme
    an old impulse
    to heal the wound
    with image
    and metaphor
    Eight stanzas
    tell the story:
    Early Sunday
    fifty died
    fifty-three injured
    at Pulse a disco bar
    in Orlando.
    A man twenty-nine
    armed with an
    AR-15 and
    a smaller handgun
    played God
    because he once
    saw two men
    kissing. And then
    the worst (up ‘til then)
    mass shooting
    in U.S. history.
    When law enforcement
    arrived and finally
    the kill space
    they slipped in
    pools of gore,
    bodies piled
    like unfolded
    laundry. Blood
    If anyone’s alive
    they called
    to survivors,
    If anyone’s alive
    please raise
    your hand.
    That’s what they said
    Please raise your hand.
    So begins the day after.
    We have graduated
    to a new level of
    mass murder.
    If anyone’s alive
    please raise your hand.
    You, you, and yes
    you. Please raise
    your hands.
    Raise them.
    Your hands.
    Raise them.
    And be counted.

    constance alexander

    Recipient of a Governor’s Award in the Arts, Constance Alexander has won numerous grants, awards, and residencies for her poetry, plays, prose, and civic journalism projects. Contact her at

    Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or length, provide proper attribution and link to our website.

    Sentinel Staff

    Jessica Paine
    I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.


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