For You, Who Used to Be – for Trayvon Martin

Internet friend and fellow Ta-Nehisi Coates commenter Sergi (also known as HappySurge and @SadBastardBar) left the following poem in our open thread yesterday, in memory of Trayvon Martin and all the other boys who have been killed, and will be killed, in the same way, killed for being young, male, and black. If you can participate in today’s Million Hoodies for Trayvon campaign, particularly if you’re in NYC and can go to Union Square at 6 pm, please do so.

As I’ve said elsewhere, Trayvon was first his family’s and his community’s boy. But he was an American. He was my boy, too.

May his memory be for a blessing יהיה זכרו ברוך


For You, Who Used to Be

When you were born,
there was a bullet waiting
in a bigot’s gun.
The first time your mother held you,
the first time you saw your parents argue,
the first girl that bothered you
on the playground
before you knew what you two were supposed to do
with each other;
that bullet was always waiting,
like a guardian angel,
to kiss you when you fell
to covet grace before you and violence most of all.

Your math teacher scolding you in eighth grade, disappointed,
telling you homework was to be done at home
and she knew you knew;
what would she say different
if she saw you in your box?
A box promised for a grown man
that fits a boy instead.
When you wrapped your tongue
around another
and felt a clean hip under the ends of a t-shirt
before either of you knew or cared about where
the right t-shirts were bought and what socks to wear them with.
Would she have loved you different
if she knew?
Would bad beatless music have done
or would she change it to your favorite song
on a mixtape you would have listened to
on a road trip you got to go on
because your parents knew.

The bullet always knew it was waiting for you.
It was waiting to mark your last step.
No doctor said you could die
from walking, but you did.
A seventeen year old boy dead
by a bullet out a bigot’s barrel
and the police chief said he knew,
in his heart,
the goodness of the truth.
And he went home
and fucked his wife.
Not for the last time.
He called up his friends and got hammered on cheap beer;
not for the last time.
He went to work and got a paycheck he didn’t earn;
not for the last time.
And the bigot,
he gets a camera crew
because he knew
you were up to something
so he followed you.
And he was scared, but not because he saw it too.
He had carried that bullet.
And he will hear human voices again
and see girls again
and remember youthful scolding’s again.
And he will know what it is
to watch a seventeen year old boy fall,
robbed of everything
he had been told and felt
in earnest absence of the coming fact;
A boy whose parents never got a chance
to love him like they knew.

But it was not the hand
of Fate
or God
or righteous thunder
that struck you.
It was an ignorant man who feared you,
who never thought for a second about
he was fucking with this kid
who probably hadn’t even fallen in love yet,
who never thought for a second of his parents and his cousins
and every time they would mention his name in absence.

I’m thousands of miles away.
We will never have a conversation.
Nothing I wish for you will happen.
This bigot will walk each step in earnest fear.
Those cops will commend themselves
until they face public shaming
and so they leave the defiant commendations
for their family rooms.
And other boys will die just like you,
like it was destined,
like it was not law or ignorance,
bigots or incompetence,
but a bullet waiting.
But it wasn’t.
They were supposed protect you
and they robbed you
and you can’t be put back
where you go.
You go in a box too heavy for you
that fits you too early
and the police chief,
in his heart,
says it was waiting for you.


For Sergi’s poems, click here.

For Sergi’s songs, click here.


  1. *tears*

    I’m having trouble, right now, reconciling this. I have come to see America as a land of the individual, united in the cause of liberty and freedom, and that may be white privilege talking, I see that for everyone.

    And then something like this happens.

    It leaves me to wonder: where am I? Do my fitful dreams cause me to slip between realities? Did I end up in a place where the promise of Constitutional freedom was denied so many because of a flux in space-time? I read that document, warts and all, and I know what it says, just as surely as I know what the teachings of Jesus say when I read them: each of us has the right to be who we are. Each of us has the right to freedom. Each of us has the right to dignity. Each of us has the right to live as we want, as we shall, and no one can take that from us, save where what we want is of imminent threat to others or against the greater good of humanity. Within those narrow confines stands a vast, open plain, with room enough for everyone, even the most foul and bigoted human being.

    It’s not enough for them, though.

    They can’t stand equality. They can’t stand individual liberty, where those individuals don’t agree with them or aren’t the “right kind” of people. Black. Female. Homosexual. Trans-gendered. Muslim. The list seems endless. Doesn’t matter; to them, anyone who isn’t them is subject to their interpretation of law and Christianity, and where “those people” won’t simply bow before their “betters,” they will die before the guns of the righteous.

    It sickens me.

    The freedom I cherish, for the equanimity and equality it brings, they hide behind, to wallow in their bigotry and xenophobia. And the worst part is: that’s their right.

  2. Thanks to HappySurge for writing this, and to Emily for frontpaging it. I was reminded by this post to go back and re-listen to some of my favorite of his songs, and discovered some new songs as well. This is one of the few occasions in my life where I get to think, and be grateful, “I knew him when.”

  3. shakazaiyah

     /  March 21, 2012

    your poem inspired me

    for Trayvon Martin

    A black teen murdered
    I apologize for not being there
    with a loaded gun in my hands
    Although you may think no one heard you
    I heard you and hear you loud and clear
    Crying out for help
    Your last words

    We are vulnerable
    My heart goes out to your mother
    Tears can’t explain
    My heart goes out to your father
    and family
    What can I do to make this end?
    Maybe what we haven’t done
    The means justifies the end
    In this land
    My heart goes out to all the people
    You will never know that care for you
    That fights for you everyday

    Your death will not be in vain
    If I were there
    If we were there
    If your mother was there
    We would have done something
    I would have done something
    I still want to do something
    I have to do something
    Your death will not
    Die in vain; it will be in our pain
    Our strength, our cause, in our names
    We will not stand for this any longer

    No black child is safe
    If we send no message
    Are we that soft?
    I ponder with concern
    Hours have gone by
    Little brother,
    Whatever your Wishes
    This has come to an end
    You are not the only one
    Who has died or will die
    This is war my little friend
    Where black women cry
    And black men die
    It has been this way
    For a while now

    You are part of the reminder
    One that reignites the souls of black folk
    And I wonder
    Did you ever know Malcolm X?
    He died like you
    From a bullet
    By racist hands
    Racist systems
    And racist plans

    He only wanted skittles and tea
    I like skittles too Tray and sweet tea
    Yet we die because we refuse to kill
    How does that make you feel?
    Angry or scared
    Others have died as well
    How does that make you feel?
    Angry or scared?
    I feel anger nothing more

  4. Kate

     /  March 21, 2012

    Heartbreakingly honest. I am weeping.

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