We Named You Mercy

             after Gwendolyn Brooks 
 
I count the years after you, 
know your would-be ages and remember
the sadness that consumed me with the 
bitter sound of you, my almost-children.
Could not conceive in conceiving you 
our muted heat and all that got 
through heaven’s gate to become that 
half-wing that was your soul. Was you. 
I saw your face once and, yes, I did 
kiss your cheeks and cry for your sweet not-
quite nose, not-quite lips. Would I get 
another chance to see you if I held the knife? Cold, the 
sterile taker’s tools, my hands, bloody and damp. 
In the darkness, I felt your toes bloom small 
petals against my ribs. Your closed eyes, pulps 
of possibility. Did you see me? The one with 
empty arms stretching to embrace a 
a silhouette of you? A ghost with little
more than hope for history. Or 
did I make that up to keep you with 
me a little longer? Did you stay until the no
I set upon your body untangled itself from sprigs of hair 
and released you from the softness that tethered you to the 
love in our cold mercy? Quieted blues, your singers
whose band tucked away their baritone horns and 
my chosen grief. How those little workers 
of sadness gathered me up, my heart, that 
splintered with your hard stop. I will never 
know the joy to have handled 
your urgent cries against my chest or thirst for the 
almost milk that did not swell, but was light as air. 
 

More by Amanda Johnston

Facing US

                    after Yusef Komunyakaa

 

My black face fades,
hiding inside black smoke.
I knew they'd use it,
dammit: tear gas.
I'm grown. I'm fresh.
Their clouded assumption eyes me
like a runaway, guilty as night,
chasing morning. I run
this way—the street lets me go.
I turn that way—I'm inside
the back of a police van
again, depending on my attitude
to be the difference.
I run down the signs
half-expecting to find
my name protesting in ink.
I touch the name Freddie Gray;
I see the beat cop's worn eyes.
Names stretch across the people’s banner
but when they walk away
the names fall from our lips.
Paparazzi flash. Call it riot.
The ground. A body on the ground.
A white cop’s image hovers
over us, then his blank gaze
looks through mine. I’m a broken window.
He’s raised his right arm
a gun in his hand. In the black smoke
a drone tracking targets:
No, a crow gasping for air. 

 

Related Poems

the mother

Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed
	children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches,
	and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
All.