In Two Seconds

Mark Doty - 1953-

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.

More by Mark Doty

Broadway

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.

A Green Crab's Shell

Not, exactly, green:
closer to bronze
preserved in kind brine,

something retrieved
from a Greco-Roman wreck,
patinated and oddly

muscular. We cannot
know what his fantastic
legs were like—

though evidence
suggests eight
complexly folded

scuttling works
of armament, crowned
by the foreclaws'

gesture of menace
and power. A gull's
gobbled the center,

leaving this chamber
—size of a demitasse—
open to reveal

a shocking, Giotto blue.
Though it smells
of seaweed and ruin,

this little traveling case
comes with such lavish lining!
Imagine breathing

surrounded by
the brilliant rinse
of summer's firmament.

What color is
the underside of skin?
Not so bad, to die,

if we could be opened
into this—
if the smallest chambers

of ourselves,
similarly,
revealed some sky.

At the Gym

This salt-stain spot
marks the place where men
lay down their heads,
back to the bench,

and hoist nothing
that need be lifted
but some burden they've chosen
this time: more reps,

more weight, the upward shove
of it leaving, collectively,
this sign of where we've been:
shroud-stain, negative

flashed onto the vinyl
where we push something
unyielding skyward,
gaining some power

at least over flesh,
which goads with desire,
and terrifies with frailty.
Who could say who's

added his heat to the nimbus
of our intent, here where
we make ourselves:
something difficult

lifted, pressed or curled,
Power over beauty,
power over power!
Though there's something more

tender, beneath our vanity,
our will to become objects
of desire: we sweat the mark
of our presence onto the cloth.

Here is some halo
the living made together.