Painting by Lola Donoghue
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Prayer for Mike Brown (or How I Became a Black Man)
Uncle Christopher has a scar on his thigh
from where a white man’s dog bit down,
yellow teeth made for ripping skin
that ran down the wrong street.
He laid the tarmac himself,
spilled it like hot grief
over his ancestors’ bones.
He tells me they occupied us
with their progress.
I never wanted to be a black man
but it’s only in peacetime that we
can call ourselves mixed race;
a police officer won’t stop
to press a paper bag against my skin
before firing, let alone
untangle the snarl of histories in my DNA.
My best friend and I
make a pact that I’ll
watch her back in clubs
if she walks hand in hand with me
at protests, because we reckon
they’ll think twice before spraying a white girl.
These are the bargains we have to make.
I never called myself a black man,
I was always patchwork, mongrel stock.
It took their bullets to attach that label
to my chest.
Their bullets, exploding into his body.
I wonder if he looked like me,
if the stars looked the same where he grew up.
I wonder about his hands.
If he loved well
and deep, and fiercely.
We will remember him.
When the oceans burn
and our hands are clasped
around each other’s wrists
grey with dust and raceless,
we will remember the boy
shot dead in Ferguson.
We will kneel, the way he did,
praying in the street.