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 

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

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


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.