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For the City That Nearly Broke Me

A woman tattoos Malik’s name above

her breast & talks about the conspiracy

to destroy blacks. This is all a fancy way

to say that someone kirked out, emptied

five or six or seven shots into a still warm body.

No indictment follows Malik’s death,

follows smoke running from a fired pistol.

An old quarrel: crimson against concrete

& the officer’s gun still smoking.

Someone says the people need to stand up,

that the system’s a glass house falling on only

a few heads. This & the stop snitching ads

are the conundrum and damn all that blood.

All those closed eyes imagining Malik’s

killer forever coffled to a series of cells,

& you almost believe them, you do, except

the cognac in your hand is an old habit,

a toast to friends buried before the daybreak

of their old age. You know the truth

of the talking, of the quarrels & how

history lets the blamed go blameless for

the blood that flows black in the street;

you imagine there is a riot going on,

& someone is tossing a trash can through

Sal’s window calling that revolution,

while behind us cell doors keep clanking closed,

& Malik’s casket door clanks closed,

& the bodies that roll off the block

& into the prisons and into the ground,

keep rolling, & no one will admit

that this is the way America strangles itself.

from Bastards of the Regan EraFind more by Reginald Dwayne Betts at the library

Copyright © 2015 Reginald Dwayne Betts
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Crimson

When they found his body today,

all forty-seven of his years drowned

in a pool he paid for with blood, I thought

of my brother. He has life. The police cracked

Rodney King’s head open before a live

audience. This is 1991 & the Bad Boys

from Detroit were in the Finals again, or will be

when June comes around & all around me shatters.

They say King had 59 fractures, bones brittle

brittle after that night when he became

why every young dude I knew shouted “Fuck

the Police.” We only cursed what could kill us:

the day blood washed over the freshest pair of Timbs

on a Richmond street, those batons slam dancing

on King’s head, my father’s weary eyes, &

the money, all those thousands we spent trying

to resurrect a dead man with an appeal,

the millions spent making King rise again.

His name, my brother’s, is Juvenile, or Juvie—but

no longer Christopher. This is what he tells me

the men he breaks bread with call him. Or called

him, a dozen years ago, before he, too, became

an old head, veteran of count time & shakedowns.

It’s how they christen niggas who own their first

cell by sixteen—& because King took that ass

whupping four days before cuffs clanked around

Christopher’s wrist that first time, back when he

was what they call on the run, when the news

came on, & we caught it halfway through, just

listening as we sweated the phone for news,

we saw King, & thought him Chris, my brother,

slumped under batons & boots, under the cops’ blows.

from Bastards of the Regan EraFind more by Reginald Dwayne Betts at the library

Copyright © 2015 Reginald Dwayne Betts
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

For the City That Nearly Broke Me

Stress this: the lit end

of anything will

burn you. & that is just

just a slick way of

saying: running will

never save you. This

man’s first son caved, fell

to the pressure, to

the barrel’s indent

against his temple.

A body given

back to asphalt.

Stress this: we never

gave a fuck, not ’bout

Malik or how the

bullet didn’t split

the air, but split those

edged-up, precise hairs

of his caesar, to save

the man the burden

of years fearing death.

from Bastards of the Regan EraFind more by Reginald Dwayne Betts at the library

Copyright © 2015 Reginald Dwayne Betts
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.