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Wyvern Lit
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Two Poems

Poetry by John LaPine

 

THIS IS HOW IT BEGINS

with a boy gunned down

for his iPhone, Skittles, toy gun,

legal gun, hoodie, or nothing—

because last summer a city

in Missouri caught flame

because a boy named

Brown hit concrete

because a cop decided

blood was the price

for a package of Swishers,

even though this country stole

more than he ever could in tobacco:

his ancestors to here,

each of forty acres,

two-fifths of a vote

and that promised mule. Or else,

 

this is how it begins, me at head

of classroom, explaining why

I can use the word ain't in a poem,

but why they can't in their research essay,

or why using the N word isn't “black privilege”

and somewhere between “audience”

and “authenticity,” I’m showing

live footage of that burning

city, streets on fire, police

cars overturned, them on fire too,

air heavy waffle batter between

twenty-five white faces

and my own, and I'm

two days into teaching,

and I’m teaching a required reading

about poverty and crime in Detroit

written by a white man,

because all required readings are

written by a white man,

because they wouldn't teach my great

great great grandparents

to read after shipping them

to here; it begins explaining to criminal

justice freshmen why someone might destroy their home

town over the blood of just one boy,

why it's not the blood of just one boy,

but also every boy who came before.

 

Or it starts sixty years ago

when bodies hung still from trees,

how a man could be strung

up like a Christmas ornament for drinking

at the wrong fountain, sitting on the wrong

bench, walking behind the wrong white

woman, or beaten to bloody pulp

for no reason at all, like when she admitted

on her deathbed that she lied

about the whole damn thing,

can you believe, Emmitt, she lied?

Maybe that's how it starts. But it sure as shit

don't end with the Montgomery

American lynching memorial,

and it sure as shit don't end

with the Facebook comment on the

article about that lynching memorial

saying, “Blah blah blah slavery,

blah blah whites are bad,” because

I don't have the energy to explain that

lynching and slavery were a hundred years

apart and maybe that's why we need

this memorial, so instead I

Wow react it, and click the X

 

to make it disappear. Or it starts

with, not stars and stripes, but an

X like a cross knocked over,

a burnt cross, knocked over

like dead cartoon eyes, like red criss-

cross latticing brown skin in X’s. And

one hundred and fifty some

years in the future, a voice will say

Let's just forget it all, I ain't the sins of my

granddaddy’s granddaddy;

or, Aren't we all already

equal anyway? Why can't we all

just start anew? as if tender pink

cells could push through

history’s epidermis, like it’s not

already scar tissue.

 

Or it starts when continents cracked apart,

Pangea divorcing Africa and the Americas,

gulf saline and widening between them,

locus of human origin, not just black,

but us—all of us. O, I wish

I could have been there

to hear that percussive                         bang

rumbling plate tectonics,

to swim through tsunamis

and ancient splitting trees,

to gulp salty ocean from that chasm,

drain the fluid that maybe caused this,

witness the world dividing

in prehistoric mitosis,

segregation’s genesis—

let there be white                     and black—

or to hold the pieces together

and catch the heavy bodies who tumbled

into the deep black raging

fledgling sea

or jumped.

 
 

FACE DOWN

and sometimes when I’m writing a poem about Ferguson, Michael Brown and Trayvon, a truck will pull up next to me that says Ferguson Plumbing that I ain't never seen before even though I've been here my whole life, in this town, like a grey statue in a city ninety-one percent white whose residents still ask “Where you from, boy?” and when I say “Here,” whose faces always betray surprise, and the truck won't just say Ferguson, but also “Passionate People,” and “No one expects more from us than we do,” and it’ll make me laugh a little, and I’ll know it's trick of light or smoke and mirrors, the illusion of oasis, because aren't I always writing about young, unarmed black man, because growing up everyone told me, “You aren't like other black people,” and when I press them for more, they stumble through “Well, you aren't, like, really, like, black, like, you know, like, a thug,” even though everyone crosses to the other side the street clutching purses because my nose and eyes, flinches when my skin enters my pocket for my wallet, calls me nigger for my hair, touches my hair without asking, and hasn't Ferguson been driving around all year, and ain’t this all a big coincidence, and don't everything seem a little more poetic when you’re writing, like doesn't everything take on a little more magic, a little more shine, don’t birds become pens carving scriptures through skylines, don’t trees preach silent sermons, won’t today even my job feel like poetry, how I’m still doing laundry at a four-star hotel, how the semen and bloodstains on sheets will seem like Rorschach tests, won’t they just be life itself, or how they got me scrubbin’ baseboards in the off-season, how they got me wipin’ kids’ vomit and Colombian decaf and black scuff marks from white wooden baseboards, or how dust collects in bunnies on my cold wet rag, or how I have to go over it twice to wipe away white residue from the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, or how my vision pinpoints from bending and kneeling and praying and squinting down the long red hall, how that’ll make blood timpani in my ear, or how water turns to milk and seafoam at the corners of the bucket’s wide black mouth, won’t that be poetry, won’t it babble through my head all morning, won't imposter syndrome whisper like a loveless child, but I'll still think, isn't that a little funny, that old truck, and when it passes and becomes dust, I’ll see a penny on the sidewalk tails up, Lincoln's face smashed into concrete, not breathing, and I'll think, isn't that funny?            No, I won’t pick it up. But I'll still think I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I'll think, Lucky me.

 

John LaPine has an MA in Creative Writing & Pedagogy from Northern Michigan University (NMU), and volunteered as Associate Editor of creative nonfiction & poetry at Passages North, NMU's literary journal, for three years. His work has appeared in the Foliate Oak Literary Journal & Hot Metal Bridge, and is forthcoming in Glint Literary Journal, Apofenie, yell/shout/scream, & Midwestern Gothic. He teaches English at Butte College.