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No Justice, No Peace: In Memory of Alton Sterling
“They say by 21 I was supposed to die, so I’m out here celebrating my post-demise.” –Jay Z, 2011
In Baton Rouge, you knew the right to life
Was nothing more than a cool idea, like Santa Claus
Or fate. You didn’t think about it, thought
About love instead. You loved country, rap, blues,
Giving free CDs to the lucky ones.
You loved a dash of cayenne, hit of salt,
Watching like a scientist as steam clouded the kitchen.
You loved your children—five of them—
Who will see you
In their dark faces in the mirror,
The cold blood on your shirt that day drifting
Through the veins in their dark arms. They’ll hear,
What’d I do wrong? and “Just leave him here”
Over and over on VH1 or the radio or on rainy nights
When they lie wide-eyed, trying to sleep,
While the world continues to spin. Where I live,
We make trips to the grocery store, commute
To work, whisper Did I remember to turn the iron off?
We chat at the post office—Have you heard Beyonce’s new album?—
While you’re pinned down, twitching on the pavement
Like Trayvon, Eric, Freddie, Tamir. You know, my father
Was a black man, though you wouldn’t know it looking at me.
Men in uniform smile as I walk by, wink even,
Loving my curls, my “exotic caramel skin.”