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.