And then (at some point) as you step more vigilantly into the middle of your life, you begin to realize that they are all dead. Or more honestly (it takes even more years), you begin to realize that—perhaps—they are not all supposed to be dead. Or. You still remember. You can still feel yourself there. Standing. Knee-deep. In cement. A particular square on the sidewalk. There were dandelions. That odd, eternal sun. When a dear friend, your sister’s best-best friend—drives by—stops her car in the middle of the street. And then tells you. Screams out of her car window. And says it: your first beloved—that boy for whom you were slowly unfolding yourself from inside outward—that boy, whom you had yet to kiss, but would one day soon kiss certainly—that monumental boy, who smiled at you differently—that boy—had just been shot and killed. By strangers. Just for fun.

You are fourteen. And it is the beginning—it is the very first day—when the World confirms that new gleam of suspicion layered on the surface of the dark violet lake inside, that, Yes, slaughter is normal.

Slowly, over the years, you train yourself not to want this—you—a body in your bed with whom you can have a real conversation—a body with whom you can walk anywhere, talk anywhere, hear anywhere. At some point, you gave up expecting to be understood. English was too many red languages at once. And History was just a very small one—a ledger, and always in the black. You took out your sheerest sword. Your tongue: a sheath of arrows.

Perhaps, not by coincidence—once you began to trip around fifty’s maypole—you and your sister find together the courage to do the math: of all the boys whom you had known as children, at least eighty-percent were all either missing, in jail, or dead. Blood on the streets, bullets in the walls, the police always flying overhead. In your head. You thought it normal. When boys disappeared, were shot, killed, cuffed or thrown onto a black and white hood for simply walking down the sidewalk. Or asking merely: What have I done? Normal. As expected as the orange poppies, your quiet state flower, blossoming on the side of the streets year-round.

And then. Finally. You and I. Our bodies. Together. For a few hours: Time loves me. Every minute a gift so tender, each second announces itself. And then, just as quickly, equally: every second is stolen—erased—washed away—you. I understand, somehow, it will be another four years until I see you again. We walk through the night, arm and arm, across the wet sidewalk, and—besides my son—I am the happiest I have ever been with another person. But it is a silence. A happiness that rare. Unexpected. Quiet. And I wait. And wait. And no one shoots you afterward. Or. Maybe this night was God’s way of saying to me—finally: Yes, I do realize you exist. And this one night—just this one night—is all the complete happiness you can ever expect from Me.

More by Robin Coste Lewis

Summer

Last summer, two discrete young snakes left their skin on my small porch, two mornings in a row. Being post-modern now, I pretended as if I did not see them, nor understand what I knew to be circling inside me.  Instead, every hour I told my son to stop with his incessant back-chat. I peeled a banana.  And cursed God—His arrogance, His gall—to still expect our devotion after creating love.  And mosquitoes.  I showed my son the papery dead skins so he could know, too, what it feels like when something shows up at your door—twice—telling you what you already know.

Verga

"...women don't want the men to go into the
bush because the women will only be raped but
the men will be killed...I have seen a woman
who was caught in the bush by several men.
They tied her legs to two trees while she was
standing. They raped her many times and before
leaving her they put stones in her vagina..."

—Abshiro Aden Mohammed, Kenya, 2000
Dagahaley Somali Refugee Camp
from A Camel for the Son,
by Fazal Sheik

 

Before leaving her they put stones in her vagina
The men will only be raped but the stones will be killed
The bush caught many men to go into the stones
The stones will be killed by several trees before leaving
The bush tied the men to the trees in their vaginas
Before bush go to trees they kill many stones
Many men will be caught by the trees in the bush
Several trees will be raped by the bush and killed
Only the caught men will be stoned and bushed by the trees
Several men were caught by the trees before leaving
The men will be killed but the stones will only be treed
The stones put many trees into the men's killed vaginas
By the bush, the trees were raped only several times
Before leaving, the vaginas were seen standing in the stones

Reason

God goes out for whiskey Friday night,
Staggers back Monday morning
Empty-handed, no explanation.

After three nights of not sleeping,
Three nights of listening for
His footsteps, His mules sliding

Deftly under my bed, I stand
At the stove, giving him my back,
Wearing the same tight, tacky dress, same slip,

Same seamed stockings I’d put on before He left.
He leans on the kitchen table, waiting
For me to make him His coffee.  

I watch the water boil,  
Refuse to turn around,
Wonder how to leave Him. 

Woman, He slurs, when have I ever done
What you wanted me to do?

Related Poems

Poem for July 4, 1994

For President Václav Havel

1.

It is essential that Summer be grafted to
bones marrow earth clouds blood the
eyes of our ancestors.
It is essential to smell the beginning
words where Washington, Madison, Hamilton,
Adams, Jefferson assembled amid cries of:

       "The people lack of information"
       "We grow more and more skeptical"
       "This Constitution is a triple-headed monster"
       "Blacks are property"

It is essential to remember how cold the sun
how warm the snow snapping
around the ragged feet of soldiers and slaves.
It is essential to string the sky
with the saliva of Slavs and 
Germans and Anglos and French
and Italians and Scandinavians,
and Spaniards and Mexicans and Poles
and Africans and Native Americans.
It is essential that we always repeat:
                           we the people,
                           we the people,
                           we the people.

2.

"Let us go into the fields" one
brother told the other brother. And
the sound of exact death
raising tombs across the centuries.
Across the oceans. Across the land.

3.

It is essential that we finally understand:
this is the time for the creative
human being 
the human being who decides
to talk upright in a human
fashion in order to save this
earth from extinction.

This is the time for the creative
Man. Woman. Who must decide
that She. He. Can live in peace.
Racial and sexual justice on
this earth.

This is the time for you and me.
African American. Whites. Latinos.
Gays. Asians. Jews. Native
Americans. Lesbians. Muslims.
All of us must finally bury
the elitism of race superiority
the elitism of sexual superiority
the elitism of economic superiority
the elitism of religious superiority. 

So we welcome you on the celebration
of 218 years Philadelphia. America.

So we salute you and say:
Come, come, come, move out into this world
nourish your lives with a
spirituality that allows us to respect
each other's birth.
come, come, come, nourish the world where
every 3 days 120,000 children die
of starvation or the effects of starvation;
come, come, come, nourish the world
where we will no longer hear the
screams and cries of womens, girls,
and children in Bosnia, El Salvador,
Rwanda...AhAhAhAh AHAHAHHHHHH

       Ma-ma. Dada. Mamacita. Baba.
       Mama. Papa. Momma. Poppi.
       The soldiers are marching in the streets
       near the hospitals but the nurses say
       we are safe and the soldiers are
       laughing marching firing calling
       out to us i don't want to die i
       am only 9 yrs old, i am only 10 yrs old
       i am only 11 yrs old and i cannot
       get out of the bed because they have cut
       off one of my legs and i hear the soldiers
       coming toward our rooms and i hear
       the screams and the children are
       running out of the room i can't get out
       of the bed i don't want to die Don't
       let me die Rwanda. America. United
       Nations. Don't let me die..............

And if we nourish ourselves, our communities
our countries and say

       no more hiroshima
       no more auschwitz
       no more wounded knee
       no more middle passage
       no more slavery
       no more Bosnia
       no more Rwanda

No more intoxicating ideas of
racial superiority
as we walk toward abundance
we will never forget

       the earth
       the sea
       the children
       the people

For we the people will always be arriving
a ceremony of thunder
waking up the earth
opening our eyes to human
monuments.
    And it'll get better
    it'll get better
if we the people work, organize, resist,
come together for peace, racial, social
and sexual justice
  it'll get better
  it'll get better.