For Ferguson

Like a black-caped magician, a man crouches in the street,
vanishing among cumulus clouds of lachrymator gas.
He’s alone. His eyes drip acid rain, he coughs deep
because his lungs and nose have become a nest of fire ants.

He came out of his home to walk with the others, their hands raised up,
palms like stop signs, do not shoot, do not shoot.
He came to say goodbye to a young teen, just graduated high school,
shot dead nights ago when the streetlights were dim and the sky was black.

There were no stars when the bullets took him.
The man came outside to see if the stars were still there.
They are, but the cumulus fog conceals them.
The clouds from cans continue to form.

I wrote this poem for Rattle Magazine’s Poets Respond feature. After a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri fatally shot Michael Brown, a black unarmed 18-year-old, on August 9, the city has erupted in protests. This poem was heavily inspired by David Carson’s photo of a protester trying to escape tear gas, which appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Poets Respond is an important project that is putting poetry back in the news. Rattle invites poets to respond to current events and publishes one of these poems “written within the last week about an event that occurred within the last week” every Sunday.

Though my poem was not selected, I encourage you to read the poem that was chosen this week, “Roll Call for Michael Brown” by Jason McCall, and the other Poets Respond poems. Submit your poems for Poets Respond by midnight on Fridays PST.

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