Finding the Words


You find yourself plumbing the depths of an emotional lexicon long run dry. Every platitude and phrase of comfort you turned to in the past feels bloated with insincerity. If you see thoughts and prayers one more time you’re going to scream. Your fingers scrabble along the damp dark ground, finding nothing but splintered anguish, tepid empathy – it clings, wetly, fingertips bloodied and raw. It is not that you can’t feel, but the fervor, the brute strength behind the emotion has waned, whittled down to exhausted ruin. No words will ever suffice. And another death, and another, and with the forced dialogue of usernames and hashtags comes the roaring pressure to perform your grief. To assuage the pain with engagement, impressions; a funereal dirge politicized, metastasized, retweeted.

Even if this morning you felt good, relatively speaking. You’re coming down with a cold: one nostril stuffed and a hair-tickle from four violent sneezes, but your baby and your husband soft with sleep beside you, and the air conditioner humming, golden sunlight slatted in through the blinds. It’s too early to be awake, but you are, and your baby smiles and rolls over and presses her arm against your chin, and you concede that if this is how you must wake up, then it can’t be so bad. And your husband rolls out of bed to disappear into the bathroom and when he returns you awake again, your daughter having fallen asleep too against your chest. You smile, reaching for him, and he tells you that another black man has been shot, has been killed, in front of his family, his four year old daughter, his girlfriend, who recorded his untimely execution with her cell phone. His voice belies nothing; it is matter-of-fact, not loud, not impassioned. He sounds the way he normally looks: the straightness of his back, broad and thick; large hands that gripped yours when you screamed in giving birth; deep brown eyes that pierce yours in solidarity when you crumble; his body, warm, firm, holding you holding you holding you. You look at him and then can’t, blinking and blinking as the terror rises in your throat like vomit: they might take him from me someday – and your daughter falls quiet, momentarily, when the terror spills from your eyes and you can’t catch it fast enough.

It’s never enough

They don’t care
The hashtags aren’t working
They want us dead
They don’t care
We’ve marched for years
We barely have time to mourn
Before the next
They don’t care
They don’t care

They don’t care

(It’s then that you remember that his presence, his solidity, that you foolishly forget to cherish – it might one day be stolen from you. He is not invulnerable to the evil in this world, to the contrary: he is hunted. Where you see warmth, and love, and light, and family, others see cold and ruthless and criminal and black. Black, the word itself bearing the brunt of centuries of disdain, fear, sin. The antithesis of light, of purity. This is what they see.

How could you ever forget?)

Unarmed.

Illegally armed.
Legally armed with a real gun.
Legally armed with a toy gun.
Asleep in bed.
Asking for help.
Listening to loud music.
Walking home.
Selling music.
Selling cigarettes.
Violating traffic.

They don’t care.

You go to work, because you have to; You sit at your desk, because you have to; you smile at your coworkers, because you have to; you do your job, because you have to; you swallow tears, because you have to. Because you have no choice in matter of being black, and you take pride in it even as your country reaffirms its hate – or worse, apathy – for you, killing you indiscriminately, ignorantly, constantly. You hold your daughter, echo her wide grin and kiss her tiny cheeks, because you have to. You hold your husband close, grasping his shirt, breathing him in, listening to the slow, steady thump of his heart. And you will it to keep going, keep going, please keep going, with the desperate, barren hope of the broken. Because you have to.

Editor-at-Large, Carla Bruce