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
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
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.