Taking the Poem from the Poet

What if I tell you they didn't evacuate
the high school after he brought in the
clock? What if he and clock waited in the
principal's office
until the police came? You look at me
as though I pulled the fire alarm,
yelled into a crowded theatre. You
think I can erase the weapon out
of the hands of that young man in
Kevlar pointing his assault rifle at me?
Would your pain lessen? Would you
sleep tomorrow? What if I expunge the
hoodie? Outlaw convenience
stores? Institute curfew for all adult males
after 8 p.m.? Did you know that kid
loved horses, ate Skittles, went to
aviation camp? What if
I rub out midnight of the blue, blue
world? Take the jaywalk from the boy
trying to catch a city
bus? Which blue should it be? First or
second? The last thing you hear on the radio
before mashing
another button? What if there were no loosies
to smoke, steal, hawk? What if Sandy used her signal?
I say her name, I canonize the thought all
black lives matter. What if I raise my
voice? What if I don't stop speaking?
What if I stop talking back?
Then will you miss me?

Related Poems

Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 

Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed

for children walking to school? 
Those same children

also shouldn’t require a suit
of armor when standing

on their front lawns, or snipers
to watch their backs

as they eat at McDonalds.
They shouldn’t have to stop

to consider the speed
of a bullet or how it might

reshape their bodies. But
one winter, back in Detroit,

I had one student
who opened a door and died. 

It was the front
door to his house, but

it could have been any door,
and the bullet could have written

any name. The shooter
was thirteen years old

and was aiming
at someone else. But

a bullet doesn’t care
about “aim,” it doesn't

distinguish between
the innocent and the innocent,

and how was the bullet
supposed to know this

child would open the door
at the exact wrong moment

because his friend
was outside and screaming

for help. Did I say
I had “one” student who

opened a door and died? 
That’s wrong.

There were many. 
The classroom of grief

had far more seats
than the classroom for math

though every student
in the classroom for math

could count the names
of the dead. 

A kid opens a door. The bullet
couldn’t possibly know,

nor could the gun, because
“guns don't kill people,” they don't

have minds to decide
such things, they don’t choose

or have a conscience,
and when a man doesn’t

have a conscience, we call him
a psychopath. This is how

we know what type of assault rifle
a man can be,

and how we discover
the hell that thrums inside

each of them. Today,
there’s another

shooting with dead
kids everywhere. It was a school,

a movie theater, a parking lot.
The world

is full of doors.
And you, whom I cannot save,

you may open a door

and enter a meadow, or a eulogy.
And if the latter, you will be

mourned, then buried
in rhetoric. 

There will be
monuments of legislation,

little flowers made
from red tape. 

What should we do? we’ll ask
again. The earth will close

like a door above you. 
What should we do?

And that click you hear?
That’s just our voices,

the deadbolt of discourse
sliding into place.

26

Your names toll in my dreams.
I pick up tinsel in the street. A nameless god
streaks my hand with blood. I look at the lighted trees
in windows & the spindles of pine tremble
in warm rooms. The flesh of home, silent.
How quiet the bells of heaven must be, cold
with stars who cannot rhyme their brilliance
to our weapons. What rouses our lives each moment?
Nothing but life dares dying. My memory, another obituary.
My memory is a cross. Face down. A whistle in high grass.
A shadow pouring down the sill of calamity.
Your names wake me in the nearly dark hour.
The candles in our windows flicker
where your faces peer in, ask us
questions light cannot answer.

Gunshot

Our country is the stage.
         When soldiers march into town, public assemblies are officially prohibited. But today, neighbors flock to the piano music from Sonya and Alfonso’s puppet show in Central Square. Some of us have climbed up into trees, others hide behind benches and telegraph poles.
          When Petya, the deaf boy in the front row, sneezes, the sergeant puppet collapses, shrieking. He stands up again, snorts, shakes his fist at the laughing audience.
           An army jeep swerves into the square, disgorging its own Sergeant.
           Disperse immediately!
           Disperse immediately! the puppet mimics in a wooden falsetto.
           Everyone freezes except Petya, who keeps giggling. Someone claps a hand over his mouth. The Sergeant turns toward the boy, raising his finger.
           You!
           You! the puppet raises a finger.
           Sonya watches her puppet, the puppet watches the Sergeant, the Sergeant watches Sonya and Alfonso, but the rest of us watch Petya lean back, gather all the spit in his throat, and launch it at the Sergeant.

           The sound we do not hear lifts the gulls off the water.