Poetry as a response

I had a hard time speaking up after the Grand Jury handed down their decision about the shooting of Tamir Rice. I felt so many things–including despair and a deep disappointment at the failures of our current system of justice–that I said nothing at first. Then one line zinged into my head and I ended up writing this poem.

After the Grand Jury

If I had a nickel, someone might say,
for every time—a way to bank our failures,
a kind of cuss jar, mayonnaise label
and a slot cut into the lid.

Today the not-verdict comes down
for another shooting—nobody
will face trial. One more son dead
and no one to answer for it.

Do the math: if I had a nickel.
The money adds up.

Grief floods over like the ocean in a storm
but this now is Cleveland—
Lake Erie’s what we’ve got, the body
of water that was dead and was saved.

This boy of 12 cannot be brought back.
Do the math: a mother, a father left behind.

The bodies stack up like nickels.
All those taxes melted into ammunition.
The mothers must let their sons out into a world
where no amount of money can keep them from a bullet.

Another funeral. Another statistic.
Do the math: if we had a nickel.
If we can find change, for God’s sake,
for our sake, help us. Help us all.


Postscript: I was also reading Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.