for Clayton Lockett, died April 29, 2014
for J.V. Brown, died March 7, 2014
for Iris, who was never born
Kali descended and asked me
to describe her in three words.
I said goddess of destruction.
She said goddess of time and
change. I said that’s five words.
She said I can’t be contained.
In a circle, there is no end and
no beginning. If we assume now
we are in a circle, there is nowhere
to begin. Let’s begin with it is morning
and I am standing on the sidewalk
at the center of a thousand colors,
a thousand textures: silk and brittle,
petal and spike, wrapping paper,
burst balloons blown over from a party
the wind ended, the tree’s shed leaves,
dog shit, flowers, a spectrum
of greens. Or, three things happened:
My grandfather died. My best friend
had an abortion. The state of Oklahoma
executed Clayton Lockett.
Or, at the coffee shop the silverware
clatters to the floor, and the toddler
who has climbed back into
the chair she just fell out of
falls out again. Or rather, the chair
topples over, not once but twice,
then a third time, and the girl cries
all three times, and her nanny puts her
in her stroller and they leave.
The manager asks me if I saw
what happened. That chair is slippery,
I say, or maybe it’s the floor.
Some things seem bound to
keep happening over and over
as the rest of us watch, astonished.
Or we can begin with before
the abortion, when they made my friend
google seven weeks pregnant
and look at the photos,
the hands and feet paddles,
the heart a center darkness.
Or, let’s make a list. Wars, of course.
Count the wars: one, two, three,
four. And disease: Ebola. Enterovirus D68.
Whooping cough. What else. Airstrikes,
or not. Peace protests, or not. Coal ash.
Radiation in the drinking water. The woman
in Liberia whose whole family died,
and now her village shuns her because—
but I already said Ebola. The woman
who was held hostage for 11 years,
kept in a cage, who bore and cradled
the child of her captor. The woman
who, the woman who. Wars. The daughter
of the woman whose boyfriend beat her
to death signs up for a writing class
about grief. My daughter gets a cough
and a bee sting. I call the 24-hour Walgreen’s.
The wars are far away. The man with the sign
that says Vietnam Vet, Anything Helps
is always on the corner of 6th and Colorado.
I turn down the music when I pass
and hand him packs of trail mix, or
I’m out so I wave and don’t turn down
the music, or I don’t wave and try not to look.
I have said all this before. The pharmacist
says five-year-olds can take Benadryl.
What a miracle the 24-hour Walgreens is.
I would lie down on the floor
in thanks but I have to make breakfast.
Or we can begin in a dream in which
I am explaining to an audience
the concept of the karmic circle:
my actions affect your actions. It’s a snake
swallowing its tail. It’s a ring of flame,
that old symbol. Or I am saying
in a voicemail to my friend the way
the sun is filling the trees this morning
is a trick. We have to steel ourselves
against it. Dead bee in a zinnia,
the zinnia browning but still pink,
the bee a frozen model of itself.
But I am not talking about
any of that. I am talking about
myself and my own little griefs.
I am talking about griefs
I witnessed or witnessed someone
else witness. I’m not talking
about innocence. I am talking about
the moment my friend swallowed
the pill against the sound of
her own voice saying no.
I am talking about the times
I saw her name on my phone’s
screen and didn’t pick up because
I couldn’t take anymore pain.
I am talking about the death
of my grandfather which was
the death of a family. I am not
talking about that at all.
I am talking about a specific
murder that happened years ago
and the final, violent closing
of that circle. I am talking about
a handmade noose of sheets.
No, I am talking about my own
death and my dread of it. No,
I am talking about standing
at the abyss of it, witnessing.
The prisoner was led from
his cell to his death
in the name of all of us.
After the execution,
I stopped listening to
the news. It was a great excuse
since I don’t like the news.
The audience is raising its
collective hand and saying but:
he was a murderer. But I’m
not talking about innocence.
There are a thousand ways
to talk about what happened.
Let’s talk about rattling
the bars. When an inmate is led
from the cell block to the execution chamber,
the other inmates might rattle the bars.
Rattle the bars with what?
I don’t know.
Hard back books? Spoons?
Their bare hands?
Whatever will make noise.
On the sidewalk I talk
to Kali: Kali when she
swallowed the pill that
would end the baby’s
life, Kali when he steeled
his face against death
Kali when I bought
the flight to the funeral
Kali when they pulled
the curtains closed
Kali when she couldn’t
bury the body Kali when
we stood at the grave
and couldn’t cry: really?
All this will happen again?
After my grandfather died his mouth
hung open as if he was astonished
at his own absence. After the execution,
I stopped listening to the news.
Instead now, in the mornings, I walk
around the block and talk to Kali:
Kali, because of you
the sidewalk is scattered
with ribbon and petals and glass.
Note: Thanks to B O D Y, where this poem first appeared.