Standing with my hands at my sides while he burns

Like every other media junkie, I’ve been following the stories about the death of Trayvon Martin.  I’ve read multiple articles, including the heart-wrenching and highly personal pieces by Charles Blow and Danielle Belton.  I have listened to the tapes of the multiple 911 calls, including the one where you can hear Trayvon Martin yelling for help in the background, and then the gunshot that ended his life.  That one left me shocked and in tears.  There are so many smart people writing excellent explorations about what this innocent boy’s death means in terms of race relations and gun violence.  Unfortunately I am not one of them.  I feel utterly incompetent to write or express anything but sorrow and a sense of injustice.

I first read about the death of Trayvon Martin on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog on the Atlantic.  Because, for me, Coates’ writing is tangled up in my mind with the poet Yusef Komunyakaa, I went back to Komunyakaa’s book of Vietnam war poetry, Dien Cai Dau, and found this:

You And I Are Disappearing – Bjorn Hakansson

The cry I bring down from the hills
belongs to a girl still burning
inside my head. At daybreak

she burns like a piece of paper.

She burns like foxfire
in a thigh-shaped valley.
A skirt of flames
dances around her
at dusk.

We stand with our hands

hanging at our sides,
while she burns

like a sack of dry ice.

She burns like oil on water.
She burns like a cattail torch
dipped in gasoline.
She glows like the fat tip
of a banker’s cigar,

silent as quicksilver.
A tiger under a rainbow
at nightfall.
She burns like a shot glass of vodka.
She burns like a field of poppies
at the edge of a rain forest.
She rises like dragonsmoke
to my nostrils.
She burns like a burning bush
driven by a godawful wind.
___________________________________________

It’s the lines about standing with hands hanging while a human being burns alive, and the final lines about her death being like a burning bush driven by a godawful wind that are the real kickers for me.  I know that my daughters will never be subject to the kind of experience that lead to the death of Trayvon Martin, and god help me, I am grateful.

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