726: After Abolition

726: After Abolition

726: After Abolition


I’m Nate Marshall and this is The Slowdown.

The first lesson I ever got about driving wasn’t about driving. I was in elementary school, I was maybe 11 or 12, only recently big enough to be allowed to sit in the front seat of my mama’s black 1995 Monte Carlo. I was probably nodding off, my habit as a kid until I felt the definite stop of the car. When I opened my eyes, we weren’t at our planned destination, but pulled to the side of the road somewhere random. Mama told me to be quiet and pay attention.

I remember seeing her turn the car off but keep the keys dangling in the ignition. Her posture stiffened, hands perfectly clenched at 10 and 2 and a moment later a police officer knocked at the window. I remember the light yet deliberate tone of her voice. I remember the way she asked permission to obey the commands to retrieve her license and registration. I remember her narrating her own movements. I remember her calling the officer who was not her elder or superior “sir.” I remember her getting a warning and spending the rest of the car ride home advising me how to avoid the lethal fear of the law.

Today’s poem, by Kyle Carrero Lopez, imagines an unimaginable world. Over the last few years many white people in the United States have become aware of the specific “talk” that so many Black and brown parents have with their children about the danger of the police. This poem presents us with a currently incomprehensible future in which that talk is history. This poem does the work of our greatest poetic visionaries, looking at the world as it is, and saying “maybe there’s another way.” It sits in the tradition of Phillis Wheatley and Jupiter Hammon and Frederick Douglass, three writers who were at one time enslaved and who had the imagination to envision a world where something else could be possible.

After Abolition
by Kyle Carrero Lopez

Prisons and cops survive only in tales for the young
like twin Atlantises or two drowned boogeymen.
A cop’s as harmless a Halloween getup as any
monster, while a prisoner costume’s as taboo as a slave one
now that schools teach what makes them kin.
A prison is the far-off past of a structure
turned free housing, each cell wall knocked to sandcastle
ruin, halls reshaped and re-dyed in green paints,
former floor plans carved out like shores
into spacious homes, laundry and A/C a given in each.
Though prisons and cops won’t be found anywhere,
our youths still learn of them, and they know what they mean,
how they look, how they function, what it will take to stop them
if they return with new names.

"After Abolition," by Kyle Carrero Lopez. Used by permission of the poet.