I’m without body but forming in the latticework
of blood cell and fret. Each threat pulls me upward
tempting and building me until my spine lifts into a column,
a kingdom. I can imagine life shaped as God-self
a fortress grows beyond me. Seeing into that distance, I glow.
The heart begins first in sound like footsteps up a staircase,
the curled fist knocks for entrance, the heart courses
into garnet-being heavier than matter, lighter than flame
I find shape, I shift from spirit and my lungs heave with gravity,
float into the presence of air. I wonder if my mother
is summoning me. Isn’t that her song parting the curtains,
isn’t that the cry that opens the shutters.
She says changeling, become a boy. Once I was a dream-animal
running. I knew there was something larger than me calling
and I ran after it like prey, as if I knew it had to be mine. I salivated,
seized by a charge, I wondered. My mind rose into a volcano,
molten heat surged like the ire of my future. I am now searching
for my mother to find completion slick as sound,
rough as water, I am scaling, sniffing for utterance, a timber,
a lost call, howling at the stars, and my eyes, bright diamonds
with which to see by, my mouth, these rough shores I invite you to walk.
When I’m large enough will you recognize me?
I am your son. I never found any form to be truer.
I am fighting to be alive, fighting to be one.
Beyond is a voice and it says:
There is a car and the door is about to open.
There is a voice and it answers:
And destruction is pointed at the boy of history.
The future is the shadow of a boy, arms raised
whose eyes widen toward bloom as they stand:
two bodies of struggle. The officer believes
the instrument’s sermon, believes the gun
is fueled when he shines it. Color the cloth violence.
He buffs the bright cylinder from which the bullet
will emerge and points it toward a future intention.
Color the cloth vengeance for it has no true name.
Are justice and victory the same laurels?
The world spins mindful of its past.
I envision, now, my son rising, arms above him,
like Hosanna out of a car. 1
Son at the right hand of the father
“It was 1 a.m. and Michael Brown Jr. called his father, his voice trembling. He had seen something overpowering. In the thick gray clouds that lingered from a passing storm this past June, he made out an angel. And he saw Satan chasing the angel and the angel running into the face of God.” 2
Is poetry proof of evidence? says one student.
If so, wouldn’t we be assuming there is a guilty party? says another student.
I walked the night searching for my father’s approval.
I arrived at his funeral, my belly heavy not with burden
but with the weight of his absence.
I searched for him the way a gull searches for a tide
whose fury carries it across years. When it lands
it heaves with the breathless knowledge of oceans.
Now my son can see. Now his lips have formed.
Now he hears me. When my son was born, his cry
fell into a well. There was a ripple in the water
whose rings circle out to infinity.
It fashions its own pattern of luck and light.
I anointed my son: one who lives without ancestors,
apart from the pride.
In the New Testament, Christ arrives
in Jerusalem and is hailed as the Deliverer
Translated from Hebrew, Hosanna means
“save now,” a petition to be set free.
When the multitudes spread palm branches
before Christ, they recognized him as the King
who would free them from bondage.
I named him Roman after lost empires
frozen in time to their historical might.
Roman, imagined horses surging,
racing toward a colossal urge,
a triumph which has no name.
Roman, nothing could touch him.
Nothing could harm him, his name
a shield, a circle of fire surrounding him
in which nothing, no authority, no will,
no gun, no warring cacophony
of insurgence, no charging
battalion could touch him.
Roman sounds like run if uttered quickly,
for the towering structure he will be.
Roman, warrior. Roman Ren.
Ren, after my own father who died
too soon. Ren, a brother to many men.
Roman, I yell after him when I see him
on his bicycle riding too far from me.
I yell after him, again and again.
Roman, Roman, Roman. He can’t hear me.
“The only way I learned about him was from a guy calling me on my phone. I was able to look on his phone and say that is my son lying in the streets for hours. Hours.”
— Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown 3
There are portraits on the wall, ones of self-identification.
In kindergarten, his teacher lays out the colors
they’ll use for their portraits. Her hand touches
a leaf of paper and she names it mocha. Another
hand on a page she claims is umber. Chosen.
Branded. From of a stack of construction paper
my son picks a color for his face. Gleeful,
he works with scissors awkwardly making
what he believes to be a replica. He cuts
large waves for hair and pastes it atop
the oval head, Elmer’s glue seeps from the undersides
of paper. When he is done, he tears a large red swath
which is the mouth curled into joy. No teeth,
just lips turned up into a grin like a boat afloat at sea.
The face in darkness is on the verge of vanishing.
He’s swallowed by a growing furnace of a mouth.
He’s been having night visions
where the self eats the self.
The officer wakes to this vision the morning
of the hearing and when he is questioned his face
is flushed. He remembers to use words that will make
Michael Brown seem threatening: Make him the hunter.
Make the boy the hunter. I will be the prey.
In the fairy tale, the hunter disappears by story’s end.
In a future story, they bound through grasses.
I continue the fairy tale, the one where the forest
grows thick with worry. I grow old and slim
with worry. This is how it will be told: I starve
in the forest with concern. I thin to sliver thinking
of all my boys. They are night syrup, they are earth,
all of my sons so hungry with me. We drink
from the lake, unsure what’s beyond the mountain.
When I wake, the nurses hold my ankles
and hands. My mind moves my son’s
engine body to me as he slowly
crawls up my chest, searching for me.
For all that we say about death and its peace
and its privacy, it is better to live. Up ahead,
the mountain strikes the sky with its crown.
When my son arrives ahead of me, I follow him
to pasture, running after footsteps of erasure.
The siren wails and reminds me the city
is a living creature who waits outside
the periphery. Panting.
1 See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mu8ypoNyzrw; Kametra Barbour was driving home in Forney, Texas, on August 9, 2014, with four children under the age of ten. She was stopped and handcuffed by police officers who were responding to a dispatch. They were searching for four men in a beige or tan Toyota. Ms. Barbour’s car was a burgundy Nissan Maxima. Her son, emerging from the car, was six years old at the time.
2 John Eligon, “Michael Brown Spent Last Weeks Grappling With Problems and Promise,” New York Times, August 24, 2014.
3 DeNeen L. Brown, “For the Family of Michael Brown, Grief, Sorrow and Anger Play Out in Public Eye,” Washington Post, December 1, 2014.