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.
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.