If space makes the pattern, her absence is filling a quota.

The president says, 
            “we’re a nation of laws” :—
The limerick 
            under her dreaming :—that lilting.
At seven 
            a Seuss-rhyme’s still funny.
            And who’s to say wouldn’t have been, still, at 30?
            The Sneetches or What Was I Scared Of?

She’s seven, asleep on the living room sofa.

     ] in amphibrachs—:
                                    who hears her
                                                            breathing? [

If space makes the pattern, her absence is filling a quota.

                                    This absence—:          Aiyana.

            But what was the officer scared of?
             What reaches for him in the recesses of
            his attention?
            What formal suggestion of
            darkness needs stagger
            to formless?
If space makes the pattern—:

                                    This grief in the rhythm of—: uplift too
                        a measure of struggle.
Which struggle with law
                                    holds the dark in it? Keeps
                                              the dark of
                                                Quinletta, LaToya, Kimkesia, Oneka, Natasha, Breonna…
                                    my still-breathing cousins
                                                ] your still-breathing cousins [
alive in it.         Aiyana. Her breath in perfection—:
at seven—:      This measure for measure on measure on measure
or else—:

Law is dead, Aiyana. It never was


Copyright © 2020 by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“An amphibrach is a metrical foot made up of three syllables: unstressed-stressed-unstressed. An elegy for Aiyana Stanley-Jones—a seven-year-old Black girl shot and killed by a Detroit police officer while asleep on her grandmother’s sofa in 2010—‘Measured’ takes its amphibrachic meter from the syllables (ai-YA-na) of her first name. Used to construct limericks, which are often bawdy, amphibrachic meters are also found in some works by Dr. Seuss. In popular culture, amphibrachs are so associated with Black girls’ names, one finds when someone wants to make a joke about Black girls, the amphibrachic name itself sometimes may stand in for the gag and punchline. In the face of calls for ‘measured responses’ to police brutality and murder, I have been writing a series of poems articulating the grief of attempting to inhabit such a measure, asking how do we dis-embed Black women’s lives from structures of violence embedded in language’s standard units and calculations?”
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon