829: Don't Touch
829: Don't Touch
I’m Major Jackson, and this is The Slowdown.
When I first started to write poetry, I fiercely wanted to offer a portrait of a stable, Black working-class community besieged by drugs and guns. I sought to give a face to the lives dismissed and erased on nightly news and in mass media as evidence of Black pathology. I knew that was a lie and I wanted my poetry to expose the harm of racial hierarchies. Gun violence affects all of us and no one is immune to its effects.
I must have been ten or eleven years old when I first heard the popping noise of gunshots on my street. In broad daylight, the shooting sent everyone scrambling into their homes: my neighbor Mrs. Pearl who’d just stepped onto her stairs, whose brown bag of canned goods, milk, and vegetables flew in multiple directions; a group of teen girls congregating on steps trading lip gloss; my cousin who was teaching me how to place my fingers on a Rawlings baseball to throw a curve. We ducked and he pulled me by the shirt with him behind a car.
When I hear of violent shootings in some part of the country, places of worship in Pittsburgh and Charleston, or a grocery store in Buffalo, concert venues and clubs, our schools, not only am I devastated and returned to early trauma, I think once again how we continually fail each other by not passing gun control laws that are substantive and impactful — even more, how we fail our children who deserve every day, minute, hour their birth promises them. We are arming ourselves against our senses of compassion.
Today’s mindful poem returns us to the omnipresent nature of guns, our intimate and normalized indoctrination into their power, especially among the poor and powerless made powerful by their presence.
Please note that today’s poem describes gun violence.
by Sarah Carson
The first gun we knew came in a toolbox for the apocalypse: hammer, barrel, crushed can, pack of Newports, a ballpoint pen someone took apart. Momma said, Don’t touch & we didn’t—because all that could happen next seemed obvious: blue lights in the windows of houses already turned out for the evening, boys with pockets clenched in their fists. Brother says it was there—next to the TV remotes, the box of tissues—that the pistol became a whole thing. One boy grabbed at another’s t-shirt & the sounds that came next were fire spreading up a staircase, the sounds of a freight train with a cement block in its tracks. The gun was afraid of nothing—not daylight, not trouble & Brother palmed it like he was drawing from a stack of discards. When one boy jumped another, opened his temple onto concrete, where earlier in the afternoon two boys shot rock, shot scissors, soon there were spiderweb cracks in the Laundromat window, holes just big enough to fit our fingers. There were stray shells that needed picking from the grass before another girl showed up with a lawnmower. Don’t touch, we told kids riding big wheels in nothing but diapers & sunglasses, kids with whole collections of shells in shoeboxes. Don’t touch, we told the dog, his muzzle a divining rod, his body a strung bow.
“Don’t Touch” by Sarah Carson from HOW TO BAPTIZE A CHILD IN FLINT, MICHIGAN © 2022 Sarah Carson. Used by permission of Persea Books.