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Friday, June 05, 2020


by Lao Rubert

Photo: GORDON PARKS / GORDON PARKS FOUNDATION accompanying “Becoming a Parent in the Age of Black Lives Matter,” The Atlantic, June 2, 2020.

Today, I join the tribe that lives in fear
of a son traveling the wrong neighborhood,
knowing he will be watched,
viewed with suspicion
his powerful body seen
as threat only, object for capture.

I join the tribe of families
whose sons, husbands, nephews
have been swept up, swept in,
by the machine turning its massive rollers
over their muscular frames.
I join the families saying,
“Take care where
and how you drive your car,
your body
might be too beautiful.
It may frighten them.”                                      

I join families advising, “Think
where to put your hands if stopped.
Though you are quick, make no movements;
though you carry no weapon,
do not open your glove box.
These are things you must know.”

We, the families,                                                          
wait on the courtroom’s hard benches
as officials toss sentences into the air like confetti          
watching as the crane they call justice
swings its giant arm, its heavy bucket        
over the heads of young men forever standing
in the wrong place.

We listen to guards tell our lovely ones    
Where to stand, to sit
when to speak
how their jump suits must be worn,
their pant legs rolled.

We listen to prosecutors
who have no words written
or whispered
about hope
that hummingbird that keeps a young man alive
when trouble comes clanging in over the rooftops.
Where have they hidden it
and why?              

Lao Rubert is a poet and advocate for criminal justice reform living in Durham, North Carolina. Her poems have appeared in the N.C. Independent, the Davidson Miscellany, the Duke University Archive, the News & Observer and are scheduled to appear in Barzakh in May, 2020.