Under Grand Central's tattered vault —maybe half a dozen electric stars still lit— one saxophone blew, and a sheer black scrim billowed over some minor constellation under repair. Then, on Broadway, red wings in a storefront tableau, lustrous, the live macaws preening, beaks opening and closing like those animated knives that unfold all night in jewelers' windows. For sale, glass eyes turned outward toward the rain, the birds lined up like the endless flowers and cheap gems, the makeshift tables of secondhand magazines and shoes the hawkers eye while they shelter in the doorways of banks. So many pockets and paper cups and hands reeled over the weight of that glittered pavement, and at 103rd a woman reached to me across the wet roof of a stranger's car and said, I'm Carlotta, I'm hungry. She was only asking for change, so I don't know why I took her hand. The rooftops were glowing above us, enormous, crystalline, a second city lit from within. That night a man on the downtown local stood up and said, My name is Ezekiel, I am a poet, and my poem this evening is called fall. He stood up straight to recite, a child reminded of his posture by the gravity of his text, his hands hidden in the pockets of his coat. Love is protected, he said, the way leaves are packed in snow, the rubies of fall. God is protecting the jewel of love for us. He didn't ask for anything, but I gave him all the change left in my pocket, and the man beside me, impulsive, moved, gave Ezekiel his watch. It wasn't an expensive watch, I don't even know if it worked, but the poet started, then walked away as if so much good fortune must be hurried away from, before anyone realizes it's a mistake. Carlotta, her stocking cap glazed like feathers in the rain, under the radiant towers, the floodlit ramparts, must have wondered at my impulse to touch her, which was like touching myself, the way your own hand feels when you hold it because you want to feel contained. She said, You get home safe now, you hear? In the same way Ezekiel turned back to the benevolent stranger. I will write a poem for you tomorrow, he said. The poem I will write will go like this: Our ancestors are replenishing the jewel of love for us.
Tamir Rice, 2002–2014
the boy’s face
climbed back down the twelve-year tunnel
of its becoming, a charcoal sunflower
swallowing itself. Who has eyes to see,
or ears to hear? If you could see
what happens fastest, unmaking
the human irreplaceable, a star
falling into complete gravitational
darkness from all points of itself, all this:
the held loved body into which entered
milk and music, honeying the cells of him:
who sang to him, stroked the nap
of the scalp, kissed the flesh-knot
after the cord completed its work
of fueling into him the long history
of those whose suffering
was made more bearable
by the as-yet-unknown of him,
playing alone in some unthinkable
future city, a Cleveland,
whatever that might be.
Two seconds. To elapse:
the arc of joy in the conception bed,
the labor of hands repeated until
the hands no longer required attention,
so that as the woman folded
her hopes for him sank into the fabric
of his shirts and underpants. Down
they go, swirling down into the maw
of a greater dark. Treasure box,
comic books, pocket knife, bell from a lost cat’s collar,
why even begin to enumerate them
when behind every tributary
poured into him comes rushing backward
all he hasn’t been yet. Everything
that boy could have thought or made,
sung or theorized, built on the quavering
but continuous structure
that had preceded him sank into
an absence in the shape of a boy
playing with a plastic gun in a city park
in Ohio, in the middle of the afternoon.
When I say two seconds, I don’t mean the time
it took him to die. I mean the lapse between
the instant the cruiser braked to a halt
on the grass, between that moment
and the one in which the officer fired his weapon.
The two seconds taken to assess the situation.
I believe it is part of the work
of poetry to try on at least
the moment and skin of another,
for this hour I respectfully decline.
I refuse it. May that officer
be visited every night of his life
by an enormity collapsing in front of him
into an incomprehensible bloom,
and the voice that howls out of it.
If this is no poem then…
But that voice—erased boy,
beloved of time, who did nothing
to no one and became
nothing because of it—I know that voice
is one of the things we call poetry.
It isn’t to his killer he’s speaking.