for JVK (12.16.00 – 7.16.03)
In the small, private eon after the gun goes off, I check
to see if we are dead, if the burden of bodies huddled in my bed
is bloody, insides out. The bullet has missed us all –
baby brother beneath the covers clasped below my ribs,
another brother fastened around my neck,
Mama, knife in hand, crouched near the footboard,
and me, screaming. Above the heartbeat in my throat,
and the creaking mattress coils, I am the lead noise
in the night. We are waiting for the footsteps in the hallway
to get to us.
I imagine how we will look on the front page
next to the missing Atlanta children. Know our names
will stretch out beneath black headlines and taut white smiles.
We could be remembered as happy and well-fed. As Smart,
Our Boy, and The Baby – In that order. As She Worked Hard
For Her Kids. As What Was Wrong With Him? The world
would begin to identify us through the half-unknowing anecdotes
of John Aruja or Alice Pierce, by the dusty path we walk
each morning to the row of mailboxes on Carolina Rest Home
Road. In order to catch a yellow bus to school. Edward Hope
Smith, Alfred Evans, Angel Lenair, Milton Harvey, Yusef Bell …
We could be among those names. Cherryl, Toby, Chadric
and Vivian Floyd. And Wallace, the distraught husband, my father,
who might send our bodies plunging, afterwards, a splash
from the Gaston River Bridge.
I smell smoke. The roof of my mouth burns with tears. His footfall
reaches the door to my room. The knob turns. The shadow,
my father (who does not smoke) walks into my scream. Diffuses it.
Where is the gun? A cig hangs from his face. I can make out
the dimpled embers near his mouth. Ash. My eyes are swimming
in the smoky corona of light.