poetry quarterly

10th anniversary

Patrick Washington



On Friday June 27th 2008, a young man in a stolen truck ran over & killed a PG County Police officer while trying to avoid arrest. He was apprehended that same day. That Sunday morning, they found him strangled in jail.

The judicial system is like Santa
It delivers maybe once a year, but
We still don’t believe in it
Even though we are cops
We have about as much faith in due process
As the Goldman family
Before the headlines could dry on our brother's passing
We wrote his killer's obituary
Taking our oaths we
Folded & slid them into our Holy Bibles
Kissed our wives & children
Told them the truth
That we were going to work
And so just before his breakfast
Shrouded in blue without badges
Ensured that all electric eyes were closed
We stepped into his cell
Reeking of malice
The defendant hears us
Leaves worry & regret laying in his bunk
Stands with fiery 19 year-old defiance
It lasts for 3 seconds
He hits the cell floor
Tries to scramble away like a scared kitten
But we are a monsoon of azure tears
This is for Rich—we hold him down
His bravado becomes mist
His screams for help bounce off concrete
We sequester our blows to his torso
When he kicks, his legs are held
Ask him for any last words
Say his name!
Fuck you!
That will do.
There are no oak trees with strong branches
No white hoods
And no ropes here
Just our righteous arms of muscle & vengeance
They fit around his neck like they were made for this
He spits & struggles
We squeeze harder than any trigger
—Squeeze until Mothers everywhere begin inexplicably crying
—Squeeze until there is one muffled crack—then two
—Squeeze until air is just a memory
—Squeeze until the fire goes out
His last sputtered gasp was the word
Our answer: guilty.
We watch his eyes roll back
Shadows wash over the cell
He turns into debris
We leave it where it belongs
We are 10-8 now
“Available for more calls”
We step out of the jail into the morning sky
Our badges now on with a single black stripe
Glistening in the sunlight


The worst thing about dying, is that I won’t be able to write about the experience….

…And no one else will see it
A cheddar yellow school bus may pull up
Driven by no one, filled with people who haven’t
Been seen since they got on
Now it’s your turn

The moment before you leave this earth
You’ll get the best view
Stars explode just before fading away
You are no different
If we are made in her image who’s to say she is not the sun?
Here’s the truth:
There is no tunnel/no light/and no such thing as near death
Either you do—or you don’t
You can’t come back if you’ve never left
That near death experience—was just the lobby
Cuz when the door opens—you’ll know

At your last earthly moment
You forget whatever you were taught here
Gravity is first (cuz it’s just not that serious)
Structure will be memory memories revert to colors & colors imagination
Imagination is nothing & nothing has ever been
The second you transcend
Behind your eyes are secrets to the universe
So when you die they
Roll back in your head
For one last long hard look at yourself

That shocked look that the coroner finds
On so many faces ain't surprise at what happened
It’s what they saw when the door opened
You could send up a skyfulla prayers
Like hot air balloons but
You must listen closely for them
Because their voices don’t carry
Elders & ancestors who once irked you
For being know-it-alls
Really do now
But so also does the 3-year-old whose mama was unfit
The 23-year-old who started fires
They own this world now but from the outside making
Periodical slides in to wisely advise you via whispers thru window cracks
And wind chimes
To take your time driving & avoid the accident
To leave the club early & dodge the bullshit
They are your conscience—the voice formerly known as friends
Previously known as fools now swimming in omnipotence
They try to tip us off
But too often we don’t get It after the casket’s fitted but by then it’s too late
The Harlem shake becomes your death rattle
And you finally tango with the truth
on your back
It’s gonna happen
One day the world around you will begin to fade, you’ll either taste sugar
Or smoke, and either way, you’ll be surprised, cause
Even if you see it coming
You’ll never think it would be like this…

I know I sound just like every other poet
And I don’t know if any of this is true but I’ve gotta believe it
‘cause on June 30th 2009
My Grandmother Edna Pearl Niblack changed clothes
Became the breath of 92 great-grandchildren
The bellowing laughter of her kids
And I felt it.
She visited each one of us that day
Rode a breeze through Alachua County, Florida
Covered an infinite amount of miles in no time at all
Bore witness to every shameful act we’ve ever done
And still loved us as much as any savior would
Told the addict inside that each breath left was another chance
Her house shoes became clouds, y’all,
She became Mama again to her 3 stillborn
And wrapped them with hugs that smelled of sweet potatoes
Cinnamon and butter
She reunited with her 2 beloveds
& I don’t believe there are awkward silences in heaven
So I’m quite sure that’s where the thunderstorm came from
She spoke through those rain drops
Sliding sideways through the wind
And something told me that day
to wake up—grab my pen and write these words:
I will never be a ghost
I will always be in your smile




This is the best part of the movie
This is when Ed Norton beats the crap out of himself
This is when Nina reads her last poem at the Underdog
This is when Kate Winslet jumps BACK—on the Titanic
Here’s where it happened
It’s better than the beginning
When Harry Met Sally
When Troy met Gabriella
It’s better than when Billy Dee Williams asked Diana Ross
“Do you want my arm to fall off?”
Look! Up on the screen
Made outta flesh & blood & insecurities
There’s this person just like you
This is the beginning of Robocop when Murphy gets blown to bits
Left with only this… thing
Lost to it at first we all grow to realize its persistent thumps
Are what make us its purpose
And every good hero needs one
They may not find it until the epilogue
Final frame or even the last breath
But it’s in there somewhere
And this is me right now
This is the Dude waking up with the taste of floor in his mouth
This is Denzel in Mo Betta Blues getting his embouchure ripped open
This is Nicolas Cage going to Las Vegas to die
Now watch this—he's gonna lie
She’s gonna know & he’s gonna know she knows
But he’s gonna lie anyway
This is Robert Downey Jr.—playing a rich alcoholic
This is the part where Anakin's shadow looks eerily like Darth Vader
Here’s where suddenly, to screaming trumpets & bleeding moonbeams,
The bad guy shows up
Smelling of quenched fire
Dripping charm, a beautiful liar
Now here comes Dustin Hoffman,
“Ms Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me aren’t you?”
This is the part where the Joker lies about his scars
This is Hannibal Lechter wearing a dead man's face
This is Slim Pickens riding the bomb
This is Halle Berry telling Billy Bob “Make me Feel Goooooood”
Right before the part in Goodfellas when Joe Pesci asks, “what’s so funny?”
Here’s where the smiles disappear
This is the part where words won’t work for a poet
Here’s where the floor feels more comfortable than the bed
This is Rocky—part one—the best one
When he loses
Here’s when the spectators turn commentators
And phone calls become infrequent
This is the first 2 hours of The Shawshank Redemption
The last 30 minutes of The Departed
This is most of Schindler's List
And pretty much ALL of Jaws
This is the ending of the Empire Strikes Back
When everything got fucked up
When Han Solo was locked away in carbonite
And Luke’s hand was cut off by his Father
And before he realized that the girl of his dreams was really his sister
This is “YES he deserved to die & I hope he burns in hell!”
This is Bruce Leroy bending down to kiss Sho Nuff’s Converse
Here’s where 1 hour in the wrong house
Means the rest of your life out of yours
Now here’s where it gets serious—
Here’s when her Facebook status changes—here’s where
To a soaring violin orchestra and a barrage of clicks—you get unfriended
In a glamorous spectacle this is where Scarlett gets to tell Rhett quite frankly that she doesn’t give a damn…
This is Rhett
And this is not how he wanted it to end—he wanted a sunset
Production credits sliding through cinnamon skies
Fade out on 2 old hands clasped together
He wanted From Here to Eternity
And instead got Willy Wonka feeding you molasses
And dressing wounds like he never handed them to you
In the first place
This is Cliffhanger when Stallone just couldn’t hold on—to the girl
Here's where the acting gets good, y'all,
And we smile on the red carpet for friends
We stash our problems behind the kids
And get stunt doubles for spouses to make cameos
We run through flames with handfuls of marigolds
And stand at the podium clutching statuettes of regret
Grasping at shadows which have already left
Swear into irises they won’t break hearts
Cue ominous music when the bullshit starts
When doubt sprouts legs & follows you home
When hate pulls back the mask aiming for your dome
This is the gunshot at the end of American Beauty
This is the phone call you prayed wouldn’t come
It’s the apology that won’t be answered
And the answer that doesn’t really matter anymore
This is when happily ever after goes far, far away
This is the part 3-year-olds never understand
Here’s where my voice gives way
It always happens here
When he turns right to all he has left
Strangers and a stage
This is Frank White dying alone in the back of a taxi
This is the final minute of The Wrestler
When he realizes that he has nothing left to give but himself
This is not Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Cuz I wouldn’t do it again
This is how you live larger than life
Put it all on the big screen
& Hope the critics are kind
To the moral of the story:
If you foolishly fall victim to the long shot
Then you better break that 4th wall
Look dead at the camera & go beautifully on the close up
So shhh here it comes
This is what you paid to see
Put down your popcorn & watch closely
Cuz I can only do this one time
This is the part
Where he dies




I walked in on your ashes
plastic tops underfoot popping
Like gum in Shorty's mouth
bedazzled and blinged out with
Crushed glass sprinkled across your face
Like glitter on a weary stripper
Your last breakup tore you apart
When Martin was shot you couldn’t take it—got naked
Doused yourself with whatever you could find
Scrawled Black Owned across your torso
And cowered in dark corners for the next eighteen years
From Georgia to 14th you were unrecognizably
Beautiful and on crack
Still, you swung black like
Your blues were never sad
Cooler cerulean human beings showed up
Took you by jagged fingernails and
Spun you in twilight until the curse fell off
These bright people
Spoke like hummingbirds
Moved like incense smoke and
Smelled like chicken so they made good companions
Taught you to be bi-lingual you could
Speak the language of the marketplace in one breath
And get gutta like a mutha in the next

Our first date
Sound check was the destination
Lyrical witch doctors concocted detonations with the
Skin of an Amphibian, the fur of a Lion
a Black Rooster's feathers and a little
Baking soda—We spoke voodoo
Put our tongues wherever the other would let us
I gave your body directions come here flip over don’t move
You gave me one night stands on Saturdays
Showing up for Sunday devotion
Praising God with you still on my breath (Hallelujah!)
...And she heard me
Introduced me to girls who looked like Thelma Evans
Rockin a neck brace with Manolos like, "what!"
Women so bad they could squeeze gin outta a mango
I’ve floated out of clubs on these gimlet rivers
Cradled in your neon arms
You’ve seen me stagger over dead flyers & flimsy metaphors
Tripping on the same crack 600 others did from ’97 to ‘01
Probably passed my murderer twice
Walked me to Georgia Ave
Grabbed my face with both hands
Kissed me with Newport-tinged lips sending me
Back to N.E. on fumes and I never thanked you
But I don’t have to; you know my heart
—Told me you loved me & never
Waited for me to say it back you
Were too busy for insecurity
Too real to not rob somebody
And too benevolent to never teach a lesson
You always were too hospitable
but some people need to work for your love
Don’t just let them fuck you sip a latte & go home…
I have family reunions every time I see you
With sons who don’t even know they are mine
At Sunrise—for you
I will look both ways for the rest of my life
On this street
I fell in love with 100 different women
90 of whom had dreads and
1 of whom will have me forever
Left you to start a family
And came right back when I realized I had no one to talk to
Since The Movement ceased
I end up rhyming to strangers scribbling along the 109 cracks
Between 12th & 13th
Touching the sidewalk café that was his grave
My memory his only marker—Askari,
People eat dinner on you now...
And sometimes the smell of curry calls me
So I sneak out nights for the clap-cocaine at open mikes
And I will find you there
Follow the echo of spray cans to faded outline alley tattoos
And I will see you there
To where a 3rd of my life’s story has been etched
Across your back, where you’ve carried me
& although I bleed gratitude
I could never die for you
That yard is full & Gaston Neal needs no more company
He’s sits with the REAL Edward Kennedy
He who watches over us on the Green Line & smiles
I’m sorry It took me so long to write this
I couldn’t admit how much we’ve both changed
I need to get back to work
but no matter how many souls you've lost or how many you've gained
I want you to know, and
You ain't gotta say it back either,
but I love You
I love U


Patrick Washington has performed solo and with the hip-hop group Poem-Cees. He appeared on three seasons of HBO's Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, and has opened for artists such as Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Talib Kweli, and Floetry. His CDs with Poem-Cees are Everything You've Always Wanted (2012), Paranoia (2003), and I.O.U. Street (1999). He is the father of three children, and works for the Prince George's Police Department as a 911 Dispatcher.


Published in Volume 13, Number 2, Spring 2012.


To read more by this author:
Patrick Washington: It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue