On May 15, 1970, the Jackson State killings occurred on the campus of Jackson State College (now Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi. On May 14, 1970, a group of student protesters against the Vietnam War were confronted by city and state police. Shortly after midnight, the police opened fire, killing two students and injuring twelve. The event happened only eleven days after National Guardsmen killed four students in similar protests at Kent State University in Ohio. The Kent State incident captured national attention; the Jackson State killings did not.
A bullet comes through the air. It’s not fair
simply to fear them as projectiles;
often they are warnings. That is
to say, they sound out through time,
running up ahead to let us know
the terrain before us does not welcome
our kind, almost singing a single note
of advice: run.
Above us, squinting through the scope,
above us frowning, sharpening the focus,
pain and quirk and need, what else does he call for,
he who wields the secret to death?
What else scares us . . . what else do we scare?
What else rustles the leaves, nervous,
trying to remain calm?
Courage and warmth, what else
ended today as the clouds opened,
spreading the clarity of light?
I remember how the sky winced, gray and opaque,
and then, wide-eyed, what else did the day do?
Did dandelions lift from their stalks?
What else got the hell out of the way?
What else got caught in the crossfire,
in the wake of the whistling? I can’t see
you for the fuselage of the city,
littering the air, strewn across pavement.
I still long
for the mundane moment
before the seed, the seed that does not grow,
got planted in my chest.
What else sowed but did not reap?
Was I the harvest? Was I not meant to yield?
Spring came and the sun came and both left
a hole where warmth once fell like a salve
for the chill and the sting of the chill.
Nightfall. Now, nothing behaves like spring.
Earlier, clouds burned off the sky
but no one celebrates a clear day
filled with violence. No platitudes
get exchanged after a killing,
sometimes after a death but never after a killing.
Who cares about the weather?
Who cares who won the game?
I see my body but I cannot feel
as others touch my body. Did I
ever feel my body respond
to the response of another’s body?
What’s the point of asking this question?
Under the night air, coolness prevails.
A cool, spring night, someone will say
walking their dog before going to bed.
Will they know how violent the day was
before dark? We think of violence happening
at night. Once more, a day stretches
possibility to the limit. Someone wakes
to the possibility, asserting, as their feet
touch the cold floor at the side of their bed,
a new day. A future of which they cannot
conceive. A death they won’t believe
unless it actually finds them.
Some bodies had fallen out of fear
like animals freezing still when facing
a predator. Some bodies got shot
but not shot dead. Their lives
continue but with wounds we’ll never see;
these wounds won’t heal.
Some flew like prey across the veldt
of the campus quad, flew on their legs,
flew without grace, like prey will do,
pissing and shitting themselves,
surviving. Some have names we will forget.
They won’t mind; they took off running
to be forgotten. Me? I was once promising.
I stood there, looking into the sun. Above me,
the roof tops, the clock tower, the glint
of the gun. Stand still and watch
as people come back into the scene;
that’s what I’ll do, I said.
People, still, will not remember my name,
maybe they’ll mention me tonight
as they lie down in the dark
after they turn off the news, but once the screen
on the set powers off, I’ll lie as dead
as the distance one crosses through the night
believing there will be a sunrise.