Two Poems

Poetry / Ciona Rouse

:: The Situation in Our City ::

I could write about rain.
I could write about rain and how it fell
for 24 hours straight in Alvin, Texas, on July 25, 1979.

This is not about rain.
This is not about weather or a storm and
especially not Alvin, Texas, where I’ve never been before.

I’ve been to Atlanta,
Georgia. I was there first. I learned
of light and breath in Atlanta. On July 25, 1979

I was born
while children died. Murdered.
A black child left his house five miles away

as I came to be.
But he never came home.
He never again dragged flakes of caked up mud 

from the sole
of his shoes into his apartment. 
Never again ordered a handful of Big Bols gum

at the mart
on the corner, never again
wore the 9pm scent of 12-year-old boy.

Truth is this
is about a storm. It’s about a thunder
that dropped black mamas to their knees

a lightning
that cracked necks
left bodies floating, dragged from rivers.

How the rain
fell for 24 whole months 
and nobody could see through sheets of sorrow

and fear.
I came here when the situation in the city
meant my daddy looked everyone in the eyes and shot daggers.

My mama
showed me the world 
while squeezing my body too tight. Everywhere we’d go

my body 
close to hers. So close to feel 
my breath wet her skin. So close to keep me breathing.


 

:: Click ::

on a good day
the brown thrasher sings
tee      teeryoo be doo be doo
but on a day when gray catbirds
and red-shouldered hawks hunger
the brown bird stops 
thrashing for food & hides
in the thick deep briar & bristle
pulling don’t	   don’t you dare 
from its chest      a warning which slams
against the air like click clack 
smack click clack 
smack

like the girl who said smile
on a wind-whipped South African day
she said smile real thick and bring
the click from the back of my tongue
out the apex of my lips
she taught me how to click in the Xhosa language
click clack tock click clack tock
all the dipthongs necessary 
for excuse me sir or help
me please ma’am 
but uniting click & vowel
on my tongue did not come
naturally

like the boy, skin as rich
as soil & bark who sprouted 
adrenaline wings
but still could not fly
fast enough      mouthed a scream
but no sound thick enough
the boy who needed
thistle though it pricks & bleeds
to nestle inside & smile real wide & go click 
clack click clack click clack
which is to say
I’m hiding      I’m ok
now turn around boys
don’t fall
prey



 

From the writer

:: Account ::

On July 28, 1979, police discovered two bodies. Young bodies. 13- and 14-year-old bodies. Black boy bodies. One of them, Alfred Evans, was last seen on the day I was born within miles of the hospital where I came to be. His name is one of the two names that started a list of Atlanta’s missing and murdered children—a list of nearly 30 young people who went missing and were found murdered over the span of two years.

My parents spoke of these children for most of my life. They reminded me that I was born into a terrifying time when black children were murdered mysteriously. In early 2017, I finally began learning more about these children, their stories and the fears of black parents and black children in Atlanta during this time. I’m exploring the unsolved theories, unfortunately finding too familiar the neglect of media attention and police action, listening to the music of these young people, watching the films that delighted these young men and women in the making. I’m experiencing the first two years of my life in a way I could never recall from my infant memory.

I’ve thought a lot about how these children were hunted like prey by the murderer (or murderers, as many still suspect), so I’ve written several poems regarding hunters and prey, specifically thinking about animals native to the area. The brown thrasher found in “Click” is the Georgia state bird. There’s something about turning to the natural world to unpack these very unnatural deaths. I’m drawn to animal instincts, to animal hunting and hiding patterns, to human interaction with animals. I’m wishing these children weren’t hunted and tracked and trapped and killed. They are not animals. They are boys and girls with thought and laughter and dreams and family waiting for them to return home. They are humans, slaughtered.

In writing these poems, I say the names of these children over and over and over. Their breaths erased, but their names still on my breath. I hope these poems might place their names on others’ breaths as well.

 

Ciona Rouse is the author of the chapbook Vantablack (Third Man Books, 2017) and poetry editor of WORDPEACE online journal. Her work can be found in Native Magazine, Gabby Journal, Matter: a journal of political poetry and commentary, and Talking River. She lives in Nashville, Tenn., where she co-hosts Re/Verb, a podcast where music, literature, and pop culture collide, with the poet Kendra DeColo, and also curates many local poetry experiences and reading series.