Word of the Week: jeopardy (noun): exposure to or imminence of death, loss, or injury.
Author’s Note: It’s been slightly edited since then, but I originally wrote the following piece for a creative writing course in the fall of 2015. We were tasked with writing an ekphrastic poem, which uses a specific visual to inspire the painting of a scene. Shortly before we got the assignment, footage of Laquan McDonald’s shooting by CPD was released; his autopsy sketch (which showed that he had been shot 16 times) was the basis of my poem, which creates a hypothetical scenario written in the voice of his mother.
I’ve never forgotten that Blackness in America is a constant state of jeopardy; but the past few weeks have been a reminder that the ” warning: no ____ while Black” list is long and ever-expanding. The items on it could get the police called, get you shot at, and at worst, get you killed. New entries to #thelist: Taking a phone call in the back yard (death); sitting at Starbucks for 2 minutes while waiting for a meeting (911 call & arrest); golfing “too slowly” (police call & harassment); and asking for walking directions because you missed the bus to school (gun fired).
Eight calls, five texts, and a voicemail.
I’m wondering why you’re not home
yet; your plate went cold three hours
ago, and your food is smothered in
plastic wrap, waiting on you in the
fridge. You can thank your little sister
for the leftovers when you get back, because I was so irritated that I almost threw them away.
I’m thinking that maybe you’re
out with that fast little girl again,
the one I keep telling you to stay
away from. The last thing we need
around here is a baby. Or maybe
you’re out riding around with
your boys, the ones always trying
to pull you into some foolishness.
It’s a school night, and you know
better than that.
What I’m most certainly not thinking
is that you are lying cold in the street,
body riddled with holes from an
indiscriminately emptied clip. I am not
considering that I will have to identify
you, to bury you. That I will be extended
an invitation which I cannot decline, joining
Ms. Martin, Ms. Brown, and Ms. Rice in a somber
sisterhood of mothers.
And a mother’s intuition is unparalleled.
I’m hoping you’re on a date with that fast little girl,
or even riding around with those goofy ass boys; at least
they bring you home before curfew. I hope these things
because they are easier to digest. They distract from
the feeling in the pit of my stomach that intensifies
each time I’m unable to reach you, that has me worried
that you might never make it home at all.
Nine calls, six texts, and two voicemails.