American Fear: Director’s Cut

Trigger warning: scene depicting the aftermath of police violence

One man vomits, his whole body jerking
suddenly forward as his last meal surprises
itself out across the pavement, speckling

the toe of his left boot. Another
covers his mouth instinctively,
turns slightly away. Four others

stand up slowly from behind
a police cruiser, forearms buzzing
and weapons alert, their shoulders

rigid with the last four minutes
looping like a circuit wire
through their system.

There is a single siren flickering
around the corner, rushing two
of their own back towards the city.

A woman nudges a fist-sized stone
with her boot, looks blankly
to the line of officers on her left.

One man kneels, lifts the fractured
corner of a brick into his palm,
lets the weight settle into his wrist,

imagines the dent in his helmet,
the bleeding crack above his eye.
He spits. Someone coughs. One man

reaches into a police cruiser
and unhooks the radio crackling
frantically like a small explosive.

He calls for an ambulance, another one,
more, help, medical, send them now.
A woman peels back her helmet

with one hand, revealing a knot
of loose brown curls pinned
to the back of her exposed

head. Someone else coughs,
swallows hard, willing the water
cupped at the edge of his eyelids to stay

there, to not sputter out, sting curved
lines down his cheeks like warm paper cuts
burning around the border

of his chin before falling
along the heavy lip of his
bulletproof vest.

Opposite all of them, people
are sprawled across the
pavement. It’s too dark to see

the blood if there’s blood.
A few of them shift, whimper.
A man is sobbing so hard

he’s choking. One man is kneeling
over someone, shrieking
curses at the flat space of air

in front of him. One woman
doesn’t move. The woman
next to her was moving

but isn’t now, her braids splayed
across the shimmering asphalt, a half-moon
of knotted rivulets fanning her face.

The moment that lead to this one seems small
now, even smaller still. The men nearest are motionless,
their arms tossed outward or folded

broken beneath them. A Cardinals hat
upturned near a blank skull, having been
emptied and hollowed in the moonlight.

The whole land is a botched experiment, manifest
destiny oozing fresh violences even as it rots.
A country doesn’t begin or end on accident.

The strain is a gradual momentum,
but the crack—the snapped neck against the rope
above the crowd—is a sudden and permanent failure,

the cliff’s edge our own countrymen kiss
before tumbling over, tugging on their fear like a parachute,
air singing between the loose, loose seams.

So before the massacre, what sharp spasm
of sound?—What bulging pocket
in the shadows?—What cupped

cell phone?—What spiraling debris?—What angel
of rock careening through the sky?—What
monster in the dark?—What imagined threat in my fist?—

What bulbous mass of shrieking chaos?—What bang?—
What pop?—What flash-crack-zing?—What tameless riot
bleeding down the street?—What steady-building

vengeance?—What sleep-deprived bloodthirst?—What well-fed
power trip glaring across the highway?—What string of shouts
spat across the tar?—What feral incivility?—What fear

gave way to this? What fear gave way to this? What fear gave way
to this? What fear gave way to this? What fear gave
way to this? Which way to this? Which fear gave

way to this? What fear gave way to this? What
fear gave way to this? What fear? What fear gave way
to this? Which way to this? Which way? What fear gave

way to this? What fear gave way to this? Fear gave way to this.
But which one? Which fear? Which? What fear gave
way? What? What fear? What fear gave to this? What

fear gave way to this? What fear gave? What fear
gave? What fear gave? What gave us this? What fear? Which
one? Which one? Which fear? What fear gave way? To this?

Which way to this? Which way to this? The fear that gave?
This? Which fear gave this? Which?
What fear? Gave? To this? All of this?

grief poem #4, in traffic

consider the clenched fist as a demonstration of energy transfer: /
hammering a nail into the wall only for the unsightly hole it creates.

You Will Identify My Body By Ear

I heard you cursing me, / telling me you loved me, in the same breath. / Know they noted my last words— / Don’t tell the kids.


i am descendant from women who greet death like brunch. /
i do not know if this is bravery or foolishness.