Driving at Night

For Laquan McDonald

I think it’s quails lining the road but it's fallen Birchwood.

What look like white clouds in a grassy basin, sprinklers.

I mistake the woman walking her retriever as a pair of fawns.

Could-be animals. Unexplained weather. Maybe they see us

that way. Knowing better, the closer they get. Not quite ready to let it go.

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Imagine

            after the news of the dead
            whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you 
            —W. S. Merwin

A blanket of fresh snow
makes any neighborhood idyllic.
Dearborn Heights indistinguishable from Baldwin Hills,
South Central even—
until a thawing happens and residents emerge
into the light.  But it almost never snows in L.A.,
and snows often in this part of Michigan—
a declining wonderland, a place not to stand out
or be stranded like Renisha was.

Imagine a blonde daughter with a busted car
in a suburb where a brown homeowner
(not taking any chances)  
blasts through a locked door first, 
checks things out after—
around the clock coverage and the country beside itself
instead of the way it is now, 
so quiet like a snowy night 
and only the grief of a brown family (again)
around the Christmas tree, recalling 
memories of Renisha playing
on the front porch, or catching flakes
as they fall and disappear 
on her tongue.

They are left to imagine 
what her life might have been.
We are left to imagine the day
it won't require imagination 
to care about all of the others.

Riddle

We do not recognize the body
Of Emmett Till. We do not know
The boy’s name nor the sound
Of his mother wailing. We have
Never heard a mother wailing.
We do not know the history
Of this nation in ourselves. We
Do not know the history of our-
Selves on this planet because
We do not have to know what
We believe we own. We believe
We own your bodies but have no
Use for your tears. We destroy
The body that refuses use. We use
Maps we did not draw. We see
A sea so cross it. We see a moon
So land there. We love land so
Long as we can take it. Shhh. We
Can’t take that sound. What is
A mother wailing? We do not
Recognize music until we can
Sell it. We sell what cannot be
Bought. We buy silence. Let us
Help you. How much does it cost
To hold your breath underwater?
Wait. Wait. What are we? What?
What on Earth are we? What?

Beverly Hills, Chicago

“and the people live till they have white hair”
            ―E. M. Price

The dry brown coughing beneath their feet,
(Only for a while, for the handyman is on his way)
These people walk their golden gardens.
We say ourselves fortunate to be driving by today.

That we may look at them, in their gardens where
The summer ripeness rots. But not raggedly.
Even the leaves fall down in lovelier patterns here.
And the refuse, the refuse is a neat brilliancy.

When they flow sweetly into their houses
With softness and slowness touched by that everlasting gold,
We know what they go to. To tea. But that does not mean
They will throw some little black dots into some water and add sugar and the juice of the cheapest lemons that are sold,

While downstairs that woman’s vague phonograph bleats, “Knock me a kiss.”
And the living all to be made again in the sweatingest physical manner
Tomorrow. . . . Not that anybody is saying that these people have no trouble.
Merely that it is trouble with a gold-flecked beautiful banner.

Nobody is saying that these people do not ultimately cease to be. And
Sometimes their passings are even more painful than ours.
It is just that so often they live till their hair is white.
They make excellent corpses, among the expensive flowers. . . .

Nobody is furious. Nobody hates these people.
At least, nobody driving by in this car.
It is only natural, however, that it should occur to us
How much more fortunate they are than we are.

It is only natural that we should look and look
At their wood and brick and stone
And think, while a breath of pine blows,
How different these are from our own.

We do not want them to have less.
But it is only natural that we should think we have not enough.
We drive on, we drive on.
When we speak to each other our voices are a little gruff.