after Yusef Komunyakaa

 

My black face fades,
hiding inside black smoke.
I knew they'd use it,
dammit: tear gas.
I'm grown. I'm fresh.
Their clouded assumption eyes me
like a runaway, guilty as night,
chasing morning. I run
this way—the street lets me go.
I turn that way—I'm inside
the back of a police van
again, depending on my attitude
to be the difference.
I run down the signs
half-expecting to find
my name protesting in ink.
I touch the name Freddie Gray;
I see the beat cop's worn eyes.
Names stretch across the people’s banner
but when they walk away
the names fall from our lips.
Paparazzi flash. Call it riot.
The ground. A body on the ground.
A white cop’s image hovers
over us, then his blank gaze
looks through mine. I’m a broken window.
He’s raised his right arm
a gun in his hand. In the black smoke
a drone tracking targets:
No, a crow gasping for air. 

 

More by Amanda Johnston

We Named You Mercy

             after Gwendolyn Brooks 
 
I count the years after you, 
know your would-be ages and remember
the sadness that consumed me with the 
bitter sound of you, my almost-children.
Could not conceive in conceiving you 
our muted heat and all that got 
through heaven’s gate to become that 
half-wing that was your soul. Was you. 
I saw your face once and, yes, I did 
kiss your cheeks and cry for your sweet not-
quite nose, not-quite lips. Would I get 
another chance to see you if I held the knife? Cold, the 
sterile taker’s tools, my hands, bloody and damp. 
In the darkness, I felt your toes bloom small 
petals against my ribs. Your closed eyes, pulps 
of possibility. Did you see me? The one with 
empty arms stretching to embrace a 
a silhouette of you? A ghost with little
more than hope for history. Or 
did I make that up to keep you with 
me a little longer? Did you stay until the no
I set upon your body untangled itself from sprigs of hair 
and released you from the softness that tethered you to the 
love in our cold mercy? Quieted blues, your singers
whose band tucked away their baritone horns and 
my chosen grief. How those little workers 
of sadness gathered me up, my heart, that 
splintered with your hard stop. I will never 
know the joy to have handled 
your urgent cries against my chest or thirst for the 
almost milk that did not swell, but was light as air. 
 

Related Poems

Facing It

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.