829: Don't Touch

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.

Don’t Touch
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.