Nightstick [A Mural for Michael Brown]

There are gods
    of fertility,
corn, childbirth,

& police
    brutality—this last
is offered praise

& sacrifice
    near weekly
& still cannot

be sated—many-limbed,
its colors are blue

& black, a cross-
    hatch of bruise
& bulletholes

punched out
    like my son’s
three-hole notebooks—

pages torn
    like lungs, excised
or autopsied, splayed

open on a cold table
    or left in the street
for hours to stew.

A finger
    is a gun—
a wallet

is a gun, skin
    a shiny pistol,
a demon, a barrel

already ready—
    hands up
don’t shoot

    not to bear but bare. Don’t

dare take
    a left
into the wrong

skin. Death
    is not dark
but a red siren

who will not blow
    breath into your open
mouth, arrested

like a heart. Because
    I can see
I believe in you, god

of police brutality—
    of corn liquor
& late fertility, of birth

pain & blood
    like the sun setting,
dispersing its giant

crowd of light.


Copyright © 2018 by Kevin Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“The continued if not continuous mistaking of shower heads, stray cigarettes, wallets, and black bodies for instruments of violence—or rather as excuses for violence against black people—haunts this poem. It was first written years ago but never could find its way until it became the last of a ‘Triptych for Trayvon Martin,’ memorializing and muralizing several figures who galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement. Found in my book Brown, juxtaposed with poems of history both personal and public, ‘Nightstick’ serves as a kind of chant, the reversal of a curse that endangers us all.”
Kevin Young