When do you take the measure of a man?
At what point do you stop and say, “Now ye shall be judged”?
Where does it end, this life, and all
that follows becomes a reflection upon it?
On a warm summer’s evening, July 6, 2016
at the intersection of Larpenteur Avenue and Fry Street
in Falcon Heights, a suburb north of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Philando glances in the rear view mirror
sees the flashing blue and red lights of a police cruiser
and pulls over to the curb, hands in plain view.
The fifty-third traffic stop, yet another ticket, yet another fine.
What will the infraction be this time? Driving without a license?
Failing to signal? Wearing a broken seatbelt? A cracked taillight?
And on what criterion is the discrimination to be made?
What he has accomplished his entire life
or what will happen in the next 74 seconds?
Whether his girlfriend beside him responds politely
or a sudden movement of her four-year-old daughter in the backseat?
And how is the verdict meted out?
Five shots into his chest, two piercing his heart.
A block of red brick apartment buildings.
The sky not quite blue, not quite gray.
Shouts tremble, cries and curses fade.
Fear turns to panic, anger turns to bitterness, then to weeping.
So what remains? Of the life unlived? Of the promises unkept?
Can we weigh what was lost against what was gained?
Or can we only weigh what was lost against what was lost?
And what of his soul? Is it heavy as a stone sinking, sinking
down to darkness or is it rising like a feather to the light?
For surely he was a decent man, good and kind.
But where does that kindness go now dispossessed?
A few feet away into the spacious fields of the University of Minnesota
where students grow wheat and corn and soybeans to feed the world.
Where out of the evening sky crows descend to steal the unsown grain.
A column of cloud towers above me.
Bruised at the base, it rises peach, lemon, cream
until it crests fanning white into the crisp blue.
At that height, water glistens as ice
the mind freezes, the imagination stops.
But here on leafy, warm, and humid Earth
I am enveloped in an embrace so welcoming
it’s hard not to feel loved.
Between the extremes, nighthawks
black silhouettes against the summer sky
slice on scissored wings, screeching
and scoffing as they swoop on mosquitoes
then rise up in an endless ballet.
Luxuriating in this warm bath of air, I understand
all the wrongs done me have been my misconceptions
all my convictions assumptions.
Already I see myself at Christmastime
feel the hugs of family, smell their coppery hair
see snowflakes melt into their black coats.
Above, in the limitless sky
the nighthawks wheel and swing
held aloft not by air, but by faith.
Each in his or her own prescribed circle
staying out of the other’s way.
The day you died clouds raced the sky.
The wind was rough on the water.
Trees swayed in their green dresses.
Our grief was in motion, too
as it swept through the world.
That evening Jupiter and Venus
shone in the indigo sky
gone a million miles
from that tick of time you left us.
Gone the first time
you wore a bow in your hair.
Gone the first time you rode a bike
raised your hand in school
were found by love, hurt by love
and then saved by love
the time you gave birth
the time you stood in your garden
and were happy.
In the morning, the sun surprised us.
We’d expected the day to be dark.
But we saw you everywhere
in the clouds, in the trees, in the wind
in the open mouths of flowers.