When the bass drops on Bill Withers’ Better Off Dead, it’s like 7 a.m. and I confess I’m looking over my shoulder once or twice just to make sure no one in Brooklyn is peeking into my third-floor window to see me in pajamas I haven’t washed for three weeks before I slide from sink to stove in one long groove left foot first then back to the window side with my chin up and both fists clenched like two small sacks of stolen nickels and I can almost hear the silver hit the floor by the dozens when I let loose and sway a little back and just like that I’m a lizard grown two new good legs on a breeze -bent limb. I’m a grown-ass man with a three-day wish and two days to live. And just like that everyone knows my heart’s broke and no one is home. Just like that, I’m water. Just like that, I’m the boat. Just like that, I’m both things in the whole world rocking. Sometimes sadness is just what comes between the dancing. And bam!, my mother’s dead and, bam!, my brother’s children are laughing. Just like—ok, it’s true I can’t pop up from my knees so quick these days and no one ever said I could sing but tell me my body ain’t good enough for this. I’ll count the aches another time, one in each ankle, the sharp spike in my back, this mud-muscle throbbing in my going bones, I’m missing the six biggest screws to hold this blessed mess together. I’m wind- rattled. The wood’s splitting. The hinges are falling off. When the first bridge ends, just like that, I’m a flung open door.
Tamir Rice, 2002–2014
the boy’s face
climbed back down the twelve-year tunnel
of its becoming, a charcoal sunflower
swallowing itself. Who has eyes to see,
or ears to hear? If you could see
what happens fastest, unmaking
the human irreplaceable, a star
falling into complete gravitational
darkness from all points of itself, all this:
the held loved body into which entered
milk and music, honeying the cells of him:
who sang to him, stroked the nap
of the scalp, kissed the flesh-knot
after the cord completed its work
of fueling into him the long history
of those whose suffering
was made more bearable
by the as-yet-unknown of him,
playing alone in some unthinkable
future city, a Cleveland,
whatever that might be.
Two seconds. To elapse:
the arc of joy in the conception bed,
the labor of hands repeated until
the hands no longer required attention,
so that as the woman folded
her hopes for him sank into the fabric
of his shirts and underpants. Down
they go, swirling down into the maw
of a greater dark. Treasure box,
comic books, pocket knife, bell from a lost cat’s collar,
why even begin to enumerate them
when behind every tributary
poured into him comes rushing backward
all he hasn’t been yet. Everything
that boy could have thought or made,
sung or theorized, built on the quavering
but continuous structure
that had preceded him sank into
an absence in the shape of a boy
playing with a plastic gun in a city park
in Ohio, in the middle of the afternoon.
When I say two seconds, I don’t mean the time
it took him to die. I mean the lapse between
the instant the cruiser braked to a halt
on the grass, between that moment
and the one in which the officer fired his weapon.
The two seconds taken to assess the situation.
I believe it is part of the work
of poetry to try on at least
the moment and skin of another,
for this hour I respectfully decline.
I refuse it. May that officer
be visited every night of his life
by an enormity collapsing in front of him
into an incomprehensible bloom,
and the voice that howls out of it.
If this is no poem then…
But that voice—erased boy,
beloved of time, who did nothing
to no one and became
nothing because of it—I know that voice
is one of the things we call poetry.
It isn’t to his killer he’s speaking.
"In Two Seconds: Tamir Rice, 2002-2014" previously appeared in the May-June 2015 issue of American Poetry Review. Copyright © 2015 by Mark Doty. Used with permission of the author.
Sometimes with one I love I fill myself with rage for fear I effuse unreturn’d love,
But now I think there is no unreturn’d love, the pay is certain one way or another,
(I loved a certain person ardently and my love was not return’d,
Yet out of that I have written these songs.)
This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 14, 2013.
What faculties, when perverted, most degrade the mind?
What faculties, when perverted, does it cost most to gratify?
I undertook to discover the soul in the body—
I looked in the pineal gland, I looked
in the vena cava. I looked in every
perforating arterial branch. With the fingers
of my right, I touched the Will and the Ring
of Solomon on the left. For a second
I felt sprung. Then bereft as ever.
Someone used to love me. Someone
used to see me. If you open a person up,
purple, pulsing. It’s in here somewhere, scalpel,
and in and in. Let’s walk in the woods,
as we once did, and see if we can find a snail,
its shell covered in symbiotic lichen.
When you covered my lichen in yours,
I thought that’s what we wanted—
to be rock and moss and slug and all of it.
To be simultaneously thinking of snails,
which are so beautifully stony
and marvelously squished.
Wasn’t that what we wanted?
I went to your lecture. I thought it
best to retrace my steps. You were trying
to explain—If I were to put my fingers directly on your brain . . .
I wish you would, how I wish you would
trace the seagull diving towards the water
as a whale rises up, the anchor dropped, the gray
linen slacks, all the polygons of my this and that
jigsawing under your touch. Oh yes, let’s
do that. Let’s vivisect my brain and see
if it’s in there. You have your porcelain man
with the black-lined map of his longing.
You have your pointer and your glasses
and your pen. I hear you ask the class, What faculties,
having ascendancy, are deaf to reason? What faculty,
when large, brightens every object on which we look?
I miss you, you know. I miss you so.
From The End of Pink. Copyright © 2016 by Kathryn Nuernberger. Used with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And vows were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far,—
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.