Polynices: I. Icarus


This is the first part of a four part poem entitled “Polynices,” named after the brother of Antigone. It’s about an experience I had as an on-call chaplain, in my attempt as a young white man to minister to an African-American family whose 22 year old had been shot and killed.

I. Icarus

Last night
I dreamed about you again
kneeling outside the ER
squawking, flailing, moaning

your old mothers perch beside you
cooing and humming
their clay faces
lined with the contours of grief
hardened by years of this—
this terrible familiarity
with shotguns
and the cracked shells
they leave behind

the grandmothers in their wisdom
nest a home for your cries
beside you on the sidewalk
folding you in close
with sighs of oh child
and the deep, winged memory
of men and their guns

your aunts and sisters swoop in behind
to preen your moans, searching for answers
hatched in the silence that death brings

your lament breaks the starless night
with rushing, un-prescribed pain
your pain is an eagle of the river
bald and black and wild

escaping the cages
forged by the hospital and its managers of risk

was he your brother? your cousin?
your lover?

(I mean the dead black body
the police are keeping as evidence

or as Christ put it
where the vultures gather)

I don’t remember now
who he was to you

I just remember flying
away from you
up through the door
past the guard
and the nurses
to catch my breath
and stretch my tightened chest

and I’m still flying
up and up
away from you

because a man like me
too close to a pain like you

who knows
my wings might finally melt


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