If When

This is a poem I wrote in 2016–four years ago–after Philando Castille was killed by a police officer after being asked to reach for his ID. His girlfriend filmed the aftermath of the shooting and put it on Facebook. Read more–including that the officer who shot him was eventually found not guilty of second degree manslaughter and that Castille had been stopped by the police at least 46 other times in his life–here.

If you are a white person who does not understand what is happening across the country, please try to get past being upset about the looting, arson, and vandalism that are part of the protests. Obviously none of these are good things. But white people cannot keep shrugging their shoulders and stopping with that judgement. This opinion piece from the Chicago Tribune points out that nonviolent protests like NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem have been condemned or ignored and is worth reading in full.

I’ll be featuring links and poems about racial justice on my blog for the next two weeks.

If When

if when I read the news that a person whose name I did not know

whose name will now be famous

will be forever spoken with fathomless grief

I am wearing a black dress

if when I say person I mean black man

if when you read person you think or don’t think

black man

if when I keep reading I can’t stop crying

or can’t cry or am unable to keep working

or keep working if I am paralyzed

if I keep working when I see the video

if I watch it or don’t watch it if when

I read the words I am right here with you mommy

I want to vomit

if I am wearing a black dress if

I am a white woman if I have forgotten

the names if you remember the names

if I list words from the news stories police

Minneapolis federal inquiry multiple gunshot

wounds cafeteria supervisor protestors weeping

if you throw rocks riot control snipers

multiple gunshots protestors video sir Dallas

Baton Rouge nephew brother son mother child

if the police stop you comply say sir

if the police say sir weeping

if I list the names or don’t list the names

if the list of names is too long to list

if the list could fill a thousand pages longer

if when this happens I write this will I have done anything

worth doing will I do anything


  1. Melissa Lytle says:

    I can’t stop crying. What is wrong with the human condition!? Too much heaviness in this country.

    Sending love to you three 💚

    Sent from my iPhone



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