When I Think of Tamir Rice While Driving

in the backseat, my sons laugh & tussle,
far from Tamir’s age, adorned with his
complexion & cadence, & already warned

about toy pistols, though my rhetoric
ain’t about fear, but dislike—about
how guns have haunted me since I first gripped

a pistol; I think of Tamir, twice-blink
& confront my weeping’s inadequacy, how
some loss invents the geometry that baffles.

The Second Amendment—cold, cruel,
a constitutional violence, a ruthless
thing worrying me still, should be it predicts

the heft in my hand, arm sag, burdened by
what I bear: My bare arms collaged
with wings as if hope alone can bring

back a buried child. A child, a toy gun,
a blue shield’s rapid rapid rabid shit. This
is how misery sounds: my boys

playing in the backseat juxtaposed against
a twelve-year-old’s murder playing
in my head. My tongue cleaves to the roof

of my mouth, my right hand has forgotten.
This is the brick & mortar of the America
that murdered Tamir & may stalk the laughter

in my backseat. I am a father driving
his Black sons to school & the death
of a Black boy rides shotgun & this

could be a funeral procession, the death
a silent thing in the air, unmentioned—
because mentioning death invites taboo:

if you touch my sons the blood washed
away from the concrete must, at some
point, belong to you, & not just to you, to

the artifice of justice that is draped like a blue
g-d around your shoulders, the badge that
justifies the echo of the fired pistol; taboo:

the thing that says freedom is a murderer’s body
mangled & disrupted by my constitutional
rights come to burden, because the killer’s mind

refused the narrative of a brown child, his dignity,
his right to breathe, his actual fucking existence,
with all the crystalline brilliance I saw when

my boys first reached for me. This world best
invite more than story of the children bleeding
on crisp falls days, Tamir’s death must be more

than warning about recklessness & abandoned
justice & white terror’s ghost—& this is
why I hate it all, the protests & their counters,

the Civil Rights attorneys that stalk the bodies
of the murdered, this dance of ours that reduces
humanity to the dichotomy of the veil. We are

not permitted to articulate the reasons we might
yearn to see a man die. A mind may abandon
sanity. What if all I had stomach for was blood?

But history is no sieve & sanity is no elixir
& I am bound to be haunted by the strength
that lets Tamir’s father, mother, kinfolk resist

the temptation to turn everything they see
into a grave & make home the series of cells
that so many brothers already call their tomb.

More by Reginald Dwayne Betts

Shahid Reads His Own Palm

I come from the cracked hands of men who used
           the smoldering ends of blunts to blow shotguns,

men who arranged their lives around the mystery
           of the moon breaking a street corner in half.

I come from "Swann Road" written in a child's
           slanted block letters across a playground fence,

the orange globe with black stripes in Bishop's left
           hand, untethered and rolling to the sideline,

a crowd openmouthed, waiting to see the end
           of the sweetest crossover in a Virginia state pen.

I come from Friday night's humid and musty air,
           Junk Yard Band cranking in a stolen Bonneville,

a tilted bottle of Wild Irish Rose against my lips
           and King Hedley's secret written in the lines of my palm.

I come from beneath a cloud of white smoke, a lit pipe
           and the way glass heats rocks into a piece of heaven,

from the weight of nothing in my palm,
           a bullet in an unfired snub-nosed revolver.

And every day the small muscles in my finger threaten to pull
           a trigger, slight and curved like my woman's eyelashes.

I’m Learning Nothing This Night

The magazine on my lap talks
about milk. Tells me that in America,
every farmer lost money on
every cow, every day of every month
of the year. Imagine that? To wake
up and know you’re digging yourself
deeper into a hole you can’t see
out of, even as your hands are wet
with what feeds you. That’s how this
thing is, holding on & losing a little each
moment. I’m whispering an invented
history to myself tonight—because
letting go is the art of living fully
in the world your body creates
when you sleep. Say a prayer for
the insomniacs. They hunger &
demand the impossible. Pray for
the farmers, hands deep in loam—
body’s weight believing what
the mind knows is ruin, they too
want the impossible, so accustomed
to the earth responding when they call.

For the City that Nearly Broke Me

A woman tattoos Malik’s name above
her breast & talks about the conspiracy
to destroy blacks. This is all a fancy way
to say that someone kirked out, emptied
five or six or seven shots into a still warm body.
No indictment follows Malik’s death,
follows smoke running from a fired pistol.
An old quarrel: crimson against concrete
& the officer’s gun still smoking.
Someone says the people need to stand up,
that the system’s a glass house falling on only
a few heads. This & the stop snitching ads
are the conundrum and damn all that blood.
All those closed eyes imagining Malik’s
killer forever coffled to a series of cells,
& you almost believe them, you do, except
the cognac in your hand is an old habit,
a toast to friends buried before the daybreak
of their old age. You know the truth
of the talking, of the quarrels & how
history lets the blamed go blameless for
the blood that flows black in the street;
you imagine there is a riot going on,
& someone is tossing a trash can through
Sal’s window calling that revolution,
while behind us cell doors keep clanking closed,
& Malik’s casket door clanks closed,
& the bodies that roll off the block
& into the prisons and into the ground,
keep rolling, & no one will admit
that this is the way America strangles itself.