Freddie Gray.
Trayvon Martin.
Eric Garner.
Sandra Bland.

The names scroll down.
Down down down.
Or backwards.
There is no end to them.

Medgar Evers.
Emmett Till.
Denise McNair.
Carole Robertson.
Cynthia Wesley.
Addie Mae Collins.

So many known and unknown.
At least to whites,
who thread their way
past the abyss.
Even some of those who mean well,
who flinch with each new outrage.

If we studied every memoir,
visited every graveyard,
attended every wake and vigil,
watched silently at every street corner,
we could not take it all in,
could not know every name or heart.

I felt my blood pouring
down the streets of Ferguson,
Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Cleveland.
But of course it was not.
No one would stop me
for my busted taillight
or my toy pistol
or my still burning cigarette.

I walk, drive, run, work,
stop and start up again
with my invisible protective sheathing
that haunts and taunts and flaunts,
even when I do not want it,
wish it were not so. Even when
I want to hide my face,
embarrassed that we are all somehow complicit.
Against our will. The murmur of apologies
hovering like summer crickets.

How did we end up here?
Eyes lowered, shoulders slightly hunched.
Speaking in forked tongues.
We never knew the chains of slave galleons,
yet I want to think we would have
railed against them
(someone said my ancestors did
though the ships kept sailing).
I want to think we would rant
and shriek, spit and thrash.

Today we are channeling the past
but we know in our hearts
this is all there is.
The here and now.
The traffic stop.
The corner grocery.
The Sunday school service.
The city playground.

Can it be true that
whatever we do
may never be enough?
Whatever is done is done?
The dead are gone.
Long live those still walking, driving,
smoking, singing, raging,
shouting, fighting back.

I cannot accept fate
with its glaze of predetermined loss.
If we rise up past
rage and apathy and fear,
can’t we all make some blood oath
that will bind us to hope?
Some look each other in the eye pledge
that lets us freeze frame this moment
like the memorials we keep visiting?
How else do we ever stop
the rolling screen of names
who never had a chance?