Dignity: a Poem

By Amanda Smith Byron

Fashion, turn to the left,

Fashion, turn to the right.

Oooooh Fashion.

We are the goon squad

and we’re coming to town.

–David Bowie


And so it goes.

What can we do when dignity falls out of fashion?

Merely turn to face what’s next, passively entertained?

Revel in the artistry without questioning the art?


How do we turn to notice the steady barrage of atrocities,

spreading like an oil spill, sullying our sacred waters,

gluing our feathers down, tacky, hampering flight,

silencing our songs of connection.


Whose responsibility is it to wave the flag of memory,

and demand a re-awakening to humanity?

Whose flag do we wave, as we steep

in this bath of humiliation?


Self-satisfaction is in fashion now, the bigger the better.

All of the safeguards, the scaffolding of democracy,

have turned out to be made of cheese,

folding and melting into a sour soup.


Peace has become a foreign object,

unseen, ignored, easily trampled

into broken pieces, fragmented pottery shards,

awaiting future archeologists to piece it back together.


I wonder what tomorrow’s fashions will bring,

what seedlings can be planted for future harvest, in such uncertain soil?

Will there be farmers to pull nourishment out of nothingness?

How might dignity bloom? Sprouting amidst the dirty tangle of brambles?


Scanning the horizon for signs of promise.

Seeking dignity’s return on the fluttering wings of peace,

sung in a cacophony of birdsong,

bringing balance.


Amanda Smith Byron is a social justice educator with over 30 years of experience working with diverse communities to heal trauma and transform conflict. Dr. Byron is an Assistant Professor in Conflict Resolution at Portland State University, where she directs the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Project, and focuses teaching and research on unsettling the role of identity in conflict, understanding enmification and hatred as root causes of violence, and developing peacebuilding strategies to effectively address ethnoreligious conflict. Her current research interests are focused on the restoration of dignity in the aftermath of atrocity.