Bullet Points

by Jericho Brown

I will not shoot myself

In the head, and I will not shoot myself

In the back, and I will not hang myself

With a trashbag, and if I do,

I promise you, I will not do it

In a police car while handcuffed

Or in the jail cell of a town

I only know the name of

Because I have to drive through it

To get home. Yes, I may be at risk,

But I promise you, I trust the maggots

Who live beneath the floorboards

Of my house to do what they must

To any carcass more than I trust

An officer of the law of the land

To shut my eyes like a man

Of God might, or to cover me with a sheet

So clean my mother could have used it

To tuck me in. When I kill me, I will

Do it the same way most Americans do,

I promise you: cigarette smoke

Or a piece of meat on which I choke

Or so broke I freeze

In one of these winters we keep

Calling worst. I promise if you hear

Of me dead anywhere near

A cop, then that cop killed me. He took

Me from us and left my body, which is,

No matter what we’ve been taught,

Greater than the settlement

A city can pay a mother to stop crying,

And more beautiful than the bullet

Fished from the folds of my brain.

            –from The Tradition (Copper Canyon Press, 2019)

Today I am going to let this poem speak for itself and I’m going to listen. And I will read other poetry and prose by black and brown and Native American writers so they can tell me what it’s like to be other than white in America in the year of 2020. Maybe then I’ll stop thinking that injustice ended in 1865 or 1920 or 1964 and 1965 or 2008 and recognize that there has been a continuity of racism in this country that runs from 1619 to now. Maybe then I won’t settle for slow progress when people of color are literally dying, going hungry, being deprived of educational opportunities, getting arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison at greater frequency and for longer terms than white people. Maybe then I won’t be madder at dignified, respectful protest than I am at the circumstances that demand protest because reform won’t come. We don’t study our past, we commemorate it. As a result, we have not come to grips with how the worst parts of our past live on into the present. Read, listen, act.

Read yesterday’s Thought. Thought of the Day (TOD) is selected by Rick Larios, Monday-Friday, minus public holidays and an arbitrarily chosen summer vacation. Saturday and Sunday, Stacey will be selecting TODs from the archives of past postings. Often, but not always, a comment comes with the quote. TOD originates as a personal email list-sharing and is further shared here with permission. A poem appears in full on Fridays; the copyright belongs to the poet and/or publisher. Buy poetry you like. It will be good for you, good for poets, and order from your local community bookstore and it will be good for them too.