Still Life with Toy Gun

for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III

after the after-party empties both of its fists
the seven of us gather like a murder
of crows to loose bread around the last

table the dining hall has left. It’s late,
and vegetarian pizza is the best thing
the joint has going but we stay, mostly

to partake in what we would never call
gossip in front of our uncles but most
certainly is: who left with how many

numbers, top ten worst life choices
made that weekend, how Lauryn’s cobalt
dress lassoed every human breath in the room.

Night unspools. Our attention plants
its feet in late Clinton-era Everywhere
& we sing of what we yearned for back then,

back home, what mocked our small,
stupefied hands like a white stove
or the promise of beauty.

Consensus lands on Super Soakers.
B.B. guns. All manner of false weaponry
we were barred from as boys

because of a mother’s fear, her suspicion
that the rules of a given game might shift
& gunfire would be our only warning,

the policeman’s voice an aftershock, his first mouth
having already made its claim. Even now, no one
among us calls this a kind of theft, which is to say,

the term never launches like a hex from our tongues,
but even if it did, somehow, rise & alight the air, if everything
we missed during the years we grew tired trying not to die

found its own body right then, right there in the center
of campus, what difference could it make now
that we have already mastered the rule book, the protocol

we learned before we learned to slow
dance, or smooth talk, or scream
the lyrics of a favorite song in a group

of two or more & not feel ashamed
of all the noise a black body can make
while it is still living

From Owed (Penguin Poets, 2020). Copyright © 2020 Joshua Bennett. Used with permission of the author and Penguin Random House.