|On April 28, 1973, a 10 year-old was executed on a street in South Jamaica, Queens. His name was Clifford Glover. He was walking with his step-father, when a car pulled up and out jumped 2 men with guns. Clifford and his father tried to run, fearing they were going to be robbed, but one of the gunmen fired. Before firing the fatal shot that would strike little Clifford in the back and take his life, the man yelled out, “You black son of a bitches!” The man who killed Clifford was not a robber. He was a New York City police Officer by the name of Thomas Shea. --Black Main Street, July 22, 2016|
I wasn’t exactly Teacher of the Year,
but classes were small and that limited the damage.
A lot of kids never came to school
except for lunch some days and always the last of the month
when free bus passes were handed out
—then there was Title One, LBJ’s bonanza
which could have made things more right—
except for guys like us. No matter.
Our failures would lead to full employment in some jungle
where too many of these kids were headed—
so guys like us agreed to hunker down behind a desk
from 8 to 3 in this godforsaken neighborhood
to avoid a free tour ourselves and a tent in some rice paddy
by sending someone else’s kid in our place.
Still, some of us made sad jokes about our petty classroom trials:
At least in Nam they give you a gun,
we told each other at a bar after school,
or smoking weed way too far into a night
that would become dawn and a day
we’d slog through in shades as if it were the jungle,
our heads pounding, and handed out word searches, crosswords, and rebuses—
whatever it would take for guys like us to make it through.
It felt faraway this damage I inflicted.
till the morning Clifford Glover, age 10, was shot by a cop
when walking with his pop to work
through an empty lot just a mile away—
and then I knew the game was up.
George Mackie, that kid didn't know to get out of the rain,
and used to say he preferred to sit under the flag
so he could do his work “under justice,”
looked at me different from then on
and didn’t want to hang around my room during lunch
and, whether true or not,
I swear I saw him eyeing me each afternoon
as the cops escorted us to our cars which would take us home,
to a neighborhood safe for guys like us.
None of this makes me proud
but like the doctor I’d never grow up to be
I lived by the rule: First, do no harm
and I figured none of what I did or didn’t would hurt them much,
especially compared to what living was bound to do.
Alan Walowitz has been published various places on the web and off. He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an Online Community Journal of Poetry, and teaches at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY and St. John’s University in Queens, NY. Alan's chapbook Exactly Like Love is available from Osedax Press.