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Thursday, July 19, 2018


by Liz Ahl 

The U.S. has finally completed
its transformation into a dystopian game show
with an elaborate and contradictory
and ever-changing set of rules
about what constitutes desperation
and what devotion; a thorough blurring
of what constitutes luck or pluck or
good timing on Twitter; about who deserves
the reward of money for necessary surgery,
the prize of the means to get to work,
the jackpot of work itself.

I imagine this young man, a student,
his sigh and maybe swearing and
the slump of his shoulders when his car
failed him. I imagine him deciding,
after all the back-up rides fell through,
to walk twenty miles in the dark.

I ponder the gravity of the choosing,
which to me feels like choosing
and to him maybe didn’t; I wonder
what I’d choose, and am stumped
because all I can think of are choices
I don’t have to make, all the invisible
freedoms not to choose I wear like skin,
like air; I imagine him google-mapping his route
to measure how long it will take him and then
I imagine him walking twenty miles in the dark
or most of it anyhow before the cops stopped him
and—miracle of miracles—bought him breakfast
instead of shooting him dead—in which case
this dead young man would be accused
instead of praised, called foolish
or noncompliant by those who contribute now
to an overflowing GoFundMe in his name;
those who tweet kudos for his devotion to labor
and its just reward would be tut-tutting
and finger-wagging because

—well he shouldn’t be out walking
like that in the middle of the night,
how dangerous     how suspicious
why was he even out there, are we sure?
why not just call in sick    why didn’t he call an Uber
like a normal person     he shouldn’t have
spoken moved looked   shouldn’t have been
silent shouldn’t have done the thing
that made him deserve death instead
of breakfast    what was wrong with him?
he should have known better—

What cruel trick of space-time explains
the difference between this young man
and Trayvon Martin, also black and walking
unarmed alone at night? A higher level of humidity,
a different hour past midnight, a hooded sweatshirt,
two different cops in the cruiser, the casual movement
of a hand to scratch a shoulder—which of these
or the infinite other unwritten and ever-shifting
variables of late-capitalism quantum mechanics
transforms this headline to the version of the story
it so easily could have become?
Has already become? Will become?

Liz Ahl lives in New Hampshire. Her book of poems Beating the Bounds was published in 2017 by Hobblebush Books. Previous collections include the chapbooks Home Economics and Talking About the Weather, published in 2016 and 2012 by Seven Kitchens Press. Her second chapbook Luck (Pecan Grove, 2010) received the New Hampshire Literary Awards "Reader's Choice" in Poetry Award in 2011, and her first chapbook A Thirst That's Partly Mine won the 2008 Slapering Hol Press chapbook contest. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Court Green, Crab Orchard Review, Measure, Cutthroat, and other journals. She has been awarded residencies at Jentel, Playa, The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and The Vermont Studio Center.