David M. Taylor

The Memory of Us

I’ve been working on a poem

for the past two months,

but struggled controlling the syntax

and shaping the words into meaning.

I’ve tried molding the lines like mercury,

forcing them into the memory of us

before your father bruised your body

and broke your will with a single snap.

I’ve tried altering our reality in the first stanza,

so you never grow scars or feel the pain

that comes from being with a black man.

But the poem continues to betray me,

and I’m left with decaying metaphors,

half-filled lines about liquid hands

and how you danced like smoke.

The poem remains a corpse,

a skeleton of scattered stanzas

in a ragged field of unclaimed lines,

where the words can’t bear

the weight of their own existence.


How do you tell your son it isn’t safe

to trust the police when you’re black,

that not ending a sentence with sir

could get him shot.

That you’d fight back tears at his funeral

while his mother tries to find comfort

in memories of him learning to ride his bike

under the fat tree in the park.

That his friends’ parents would give condolences

and try not to imagine their child being buried

deep in the ground during the heat of July.

That you’d mourn his absence between each breath,

and sleep would only remind you of his dead body

marked by yellow tags to identify shell casings.

That his brother and sister would resent him for dying

because his shadow has deep roots,

and nothing can compete against a ghost.

I guess you tell him the same way my parents told me,

who learned through the legacy of our ancestors,

the ritual of growing up black.


My brain broke when I was a kid,

but I didn’t have the words

to describe how pain made me feel human,

that rubbing my raw bruises

gave me satisfaction in being alive.

I’d burn unfolded paperclips,

rake them across my flesh

to carve thin roads in my arms

and watch the red bloom onto my skin.

I’d study how my pores stretched

until they broke from the pressure,

tested how each part of my arm

tore easier than others.


Days later I’d peel the scabs slowly,

feel the crusted blood fight

as it clung to the pink wounds,

and relive the metal tearing me again.


I wondered if I was actually born dead,

that the carcass I claimed

would ever be alive long enough

for me to make it through the day.

But I never told anyone

because these things aren’t mentioned

in polite conversations.


Each night I’d look at my reflection

in the solitude of the bathroom mirror

and hold on as tightly as I could.

Published 12-3-17

David M. Taylor teaches at a community college in St. Louis, MO. His poems have appeared in various magazines including Rising Phoenix Review, Trailer Park Quarterly, Misfit Magazine, Milk Sugar, and Burnt Pine. He also has three poetry chapbooks—M&Ms and Other Insignificant Poems, Two Cobras in a Ritual Dance, and Life’s Ramblings.