How to Build a Clock That Isn’t a Bomb By Jessie Lynn McMains

How to Build a Clock That Isn’t a Bomb

(for Ahmed Mohamed)

1. The clock is not a bomb.
Resist those who say you should not have made a clock and brought it to school. Resist their fear and hatred. You have the capacity for greatness, and if you feed it with love and work it will one day explode from your soul in all the shimmering shades of golden-amber-honey sunfire that God made. The ones who try to stop your fire once had greatness inside their souls, but they fed it with fear and hatred, and it fizzled out dead. A dud.

2. The flag is a symbol. Pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. The flag is a symbol that can be purchased, a symbol that is used to justify fear and hatred and bombs. Knowledge and faith cannot be purchased, so when you put your hand over your star-spangled heart, know that you are an American. Have faith in your God and know that He does not care if you call him by a different name than your classmates do. Know that liberty and justice for all means liberty and justice for you, too.

3. This is not a hoax. When the men with guns and badges come to arrest you, they will not be discrete. They will show you that they know the clock is not a bomb, but that it looks enough like a bomb to justify their fear and hatred. “It looks like a hoax bomb,” they will say. “Like a movie bomb.” Is this a hoax? You are a fourteen-year-old boy, yet they will send in five grown men to arrest you, and if this were a movie, the not-bomb would detonate in slow motion.

4. You are a bomb. They are not afraid of the not-bomb. They are afraid of you. You are a fourteen-year-old boy, and they are grown men, and they are afraid of you. They are afraid of you and they hate you because your future greatness is supported by faith and family. When they were fourteen, no one supported their greatness. They were fed sorrow and fear. Now they have guns and badges, and they are afraid of you. Afraid of the power of your blazing curiosity. Of your sunfire-brown skin. They fear your faith, because you call your God by a foreign name. They fear your name, the holiness in it. They hear how Ahmed sounds like a(h)men. It makes them want to weep. Wanting to weep makes them angry, and afraid.

5. You are a builder. It will be shown that your livewire mind and your sun-colored soul and your hands – though they are still a boy’s hands – have generated multiple vibrations. These vibrations will flash, lightning-fast, across state lines and oceans. You thought you were building a clock, they said you were building a not-bomb, but you were really building a difference.

6. You are a star. The world will plug in to news of you. Scientists and artists and presidents, young children and grown men, will feel a connection. Famous and not-famous, people of all faiths, will be your support. They will feed you love, and help you work, and say: “We see your greatness. Keep your head up.” Though the few who hate and fear will shout to be heard, the voices of the rest will resonate the loudest.

7. The old ideas must be destroyed. The shouting few will say they are afraid of bombs, even hoax-bombs. They will say they are afraid that if you are not punished you, or someone like you, will destroy the world. They will not realize they are lying. Their real fear is that you, or someone like you, will save the world. They are afraid of this because saving the world means destroying old ideas, old beliefs, old lies. They have lived with with these old ideas for so long they are afraid to live without them.

8. Fear is a landmine. I am sorry your English teacher is afraid of you, your skin, your soul, your name. Maybe she once held greatness like a grenade inside her, longed to build meaning and difference. Maybe she once had the parts to make a poem or story that would have popped and sparked like a firecracker, that would have destroyed old ideas like a bomb. Maybe someone told her not to do it. Maybe she was punished, too.

9. You are a clockmaker. Keep countering the words of the angry, fearful alarmists with the words of those who support you. Counter them with your own smoldering thoughts. Say: “I am a star-spangled clockmaker. I am a fire. I am a son.” The world is counting on you.

10. You are a clock. You thought you were building a clock. They thought you were building a not-bomb. You were building a difference. You wanted to show them your greatness. They saw their own lack of it. This is not a movie. This is not a hoax. Nothing moves in slow-motion. Nothing explodes. You can buy a flag. You can buy the parts to make a clock. You can not buy knowledge, or faith. Or love. They might have been great, but they were fed on fear and hate. They were punished with words and symbols and flags. And now they want to punish you, too. You are an American clock, chiming out liberty and justice.

11. You are a bomb. You are a seed. Explode with sunfire; blossom like a sunflower. Detonate and bloom and save us all. Ah-men.

By Jessie Lynn McMains


Jessie Lynn McMains (aka Rust Belt Jessie), is the Poet Laureate of Racine, Wisconsin. She has performed spoken word on tour with the Perpetual Motion Roadshow, at FILF in Cleveland, and at Queer Open Mic and Bitchez Nueve in San Francisco, as well as various other places across the US and Canada. She has been publishing her prose and poetry in her own zines since 1994, and her work has also appeared in The Chapess, New Pop Lit,The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, Wonderlust Lit Zine, Razorcake, and Word Riot, amongst others. Her short story “Insect Summer” was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. She currently writes music reviews and essays for Witchsong. Someone once called her the Debbie Harry of poetry, and she thinks that’s a pretty rad description. If you like, you can also refer to her as the punk rock Edna St. Vincent Millay. She loves music, adventure, community gardens, home-brewed beer, tarot, dancing, playing dress-up, her friends and family, and her four-year-old kidlet. She collects souvenir pennies and stick and poke tattoos. She is perpetually melancholy, restless, and nostalgic. She believes storytelling can change the world. You can find her website at and her blog at

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