I Pray the Lord My Son’s Soul to Keep

Now I lay me down to sleep…
as the news
hangs heavy around my bed.
A boy, with a face sullen and cold,
like the face of my own son,
was shot tonight.
…I pray the Lord
but, oh Lord, I pray much harder.
Much harder than I imagine my fellow mothers pray.
I pray for my chocolate-skinned son.
Long, silent nights. Alone. I pray.
My God you have blessed me
not with peace
but with this unbearable burden.
For the freedom and unending mercies
of each new day wrought from your word
seem not enough to release my son from this:
a life filled with violence at the hands of sons
of other mothers,
backs broken by the same humble position of prayer.
The weight of the minutes I endure
tick. tock.
when my son is late from school
crush my knees
calloused, bruised
even harder into the ground
once again burdened by a load not my own.
My soul unsettled by the guilt
that my very own flesh and bones
bore this young man into this
daily battleground.
…my soul to keep
from questioning whether with each prayer
I am stealing away the minutes from
thousands of other mothers
pleading for the protection of their children.
keep my soul, oh Lord
from questioning why some black mothers
both young and old
must devote hours, years, lifetimes
to this unbearable burden
when other mothers
yes, both black and white
can sleep in relative peace
knowing they can save their prayers
for such extraordinary things:
success, satisfaction, and happiness.
…and if i should die before i wake
I pray my Lord my sons life you will not take
and for the years that he may be alone
I pray even harder, even longer for
Lord knows
oh Lord, you only know
I am the one and sometimes the only one
that knows the value of the life of my son.

**This poem is loosely inspired by a recent movie I watched called Fruitvale Station, which shares the tragic and heartbreaking story of a 22 year-old black man that was accidentally shot and killed by a BART police officer a few years ago.  As I was watching my attention kept being drawn to his mother who, despite her many efforts and prayers, could not keep her son safe that night.

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It’s Not Enough

Two young boys playing cops and robbers in the summer heat
How do you tell them it is more than just a game?
The dichotomy of good and bad, criminal and innocent are alive and real.

Sweat pouring down a young mother’s brow in labor
this moment of joy almost overshadowed by the fear in her heart.
Her future filled with conversations prompted by questions of why…
“Why does Billy’s mom not let him come over to play at night?”

It’s not enough to say things have changed.
To raise a fist, post a comment, write a poem.
It’s not enough.

A father fingers a wad of sweaty cash on the corner
waiting for the next round of fiends to pay him for the
single moment of peace he supplies.
All the while his mind ponders the familiar thought
How to teach his son another way of life.

It’s not enough to tell young men the way of their fathers
does not have to be their own.
To speak of education, bootstraps, and potential.
It’s not enough.

Brothers working two jobs, hustling on the side
providing money for their babies and baby mamas
hoping their babies remember their faces,
sweat dripping, wrinkles deepening
unlike their own dad’s unknown, empty silhouette.

It’s not enough to simply hope for men to become fathers.
To theorize about responsibility, parenting style, pride.
It’s not enough.

The smile of a baby born with the skin of his father.
The skin of his grandfather; like any other infant.
Now unaware that this same skin that carries the pride of generations
marks this child as different, other.

It’s not enough to be colorblind.
To claim the skin color of that child does not matter and in the same breath
dismiss the centuries of hurt, pain and journey experienced in that skin.
It’s not enough.

Such skin color reckons back to the generations of survivors.
Men and women born in quicksand with the screams of
“pull yourself up… and quickly.”
the only sound echoing through their conscience.
But they remain. But they persevere.

And each generation of young men playing a simple game
of cops and robbers faces the reality.
With each game, they are rehearsing life
but instead they never choose their role.
BANG!

Impossibility

I miss the warmth that I felt from my hands to my heart
as they carefully found the creases in your flesh
that had been lonely for years.
The pure heartbeat of your body connecting two souls
and creating an unlikely melody.
But within that deep stillness doubt creeps
Creeps under the pillow and between the strands
of tangled hair that fell all the way to the floor
Is this but a dream?
Is this what is meant by impossible?
Yet we dream
entangled in our impossibilities
Skin pressed so tightly so tightly
So tightly that even heaven cannot know the
difference between you and I.

Open Mic

The following poem tells the story of a special night on a retreat that I helped lead for middle school and high school students.  Each student approached a solitary mic stand without pretense but with maturity and courage and spoke vulnerably of past hurts, like gang violence, suicide, divorce, and illness.

A single mic stand
Lonely.
accompanied only by a single candle steadily burning
A sea of young faces staring at this lonely mic stand.
waiting for magic.

A boy steps forward.
Silence like that of a funeral procession
Death was present but its close relative dread was no where to be found.
Death was sought.
Not physical but emotional.
Stripping one’s soul, dying to others’ judgments.

A word.
A joke.
Uncomfortabliity.
All palpable.

Stories never told flowed like a treacherous river.
With each confession a new stream birthed from young kids’ eyes.
Then the magic.
Stepping away the boy was now a man.
The, no longer lonely, mic stand had a new companion.

With each child a new burden lay next to the mic.
As each stepped away, heart still racing but the weight gone.
United as the burdens looked similar heaped next to such a lonely mic stand.
Yet no burden the same.