poetry quarterly

10th anniversary


Tara Betts



When I reached my 37th new year,
computers, televisions & radios announced
the levies against blood, six lives gone,
and a congress person, who does not
look or talk like me, even before the calm
of her skull was shattered. Don’t retreat. Reload—
two imperatives exercised by mercenaries prowling
corrugated fences speckled with spilled blood
in Arizona, a state seceding one law at a time.

Gabrielle Giffords talked to constituents in a grocery store
parking lot when the bullet coaxed into crosshairs
was invisibly engraved with TERRRORIST,
stanched by intern Hernandez who would not
stop holding her hand. His other hand holding together
the melee of her head until ambulance, until newsbreak,
until surgeries, until shock subsides. I pray silently
toward the crinkle of radio static. Blood warms
my throat into gurgle, a drowning metallic red inside.

Looking at tragedy through someone white
and elected makes this easier to understand
and empathize, right? Her husband on television
is a man watching his wife hold on to breath’s delicate
paper. She cannot use words to fill space between them,
so she touches his wedding ring. From her hospital bed,
she rubs his neck as she’s always done when he worries.

I consider my own husband born between two islands—
one choked by embargo and the other with birth certificates
and wombs that America has never been bound to respect.
Consider me as wife born from Tennessee & Cairo blacks
just barely free & French immigrants who did not pass on
language to their now American children. There are
small brutalities every day. Consider us brown married folk,
thinking that world does not expect our loving and prefers
to dwindle away our existence daily. Some of us know
death threat echoes so well that we keep going to work,
organizing, & raising families—like Albízu & Laura,
Betty & Malcolm, Martin & Coretta, Medgar & Myrlie.

How Gabrielle & Mark lead me to dwell on the free
speech of supremacy filling chambers and firing.
I consider wedging the butt of a gun into my shoulder
to protect the man who’s hand I rub with one thumb
until I pull my coat’s collar up and open the front door.
The frail snowflakes make me drop a veil of violence
They permit me to stop holding my breath in the cold.

Written on February 4, 2011 for the Floricanto in DC:
A Multicultural Response to SB 1070
AWP 2011, True Reformer Building, 1200 U St., Washington, DC

Tara Betts is the author of Arc & Hue, a Cave Canem alumna, and a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Rutgers University. Her work appears in Callaloo, PMS, Essence, Ninth Letter, Crab Orchard Review, and Gathering Ground. Her website: www.tarabetts.net


Published in Volume 13, Number 1, Winter 2012.