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Proximity Part I

for Justin M.


Proximity is a strange thing in my city

To privilege

To death

To water and health

To only kind-of knowing those who are gone but knowing so many who were so close.



Police arrived on scene twenty minutes after he was long gone.

I imagine


The tatted up kid would joke his way through the junior high hallways,

on his way to being

JUST one minute late to math class.


While I remember his roughness, I choose to focus on his kindness.

His sweet kicks and strong hands

Bright black eyes and lashes longer than all the insecure junior high girls would dare to admit.


He was quiet most of the time.

Thrown into an open sea of sixty kids who had been together for eight years,

Only to know him for one.


The odd man out.


We weren’t friends then

Through I’d like to think he knew I appreciated him

Understood there was much more to his story than I knew


I forgot about him

Until I found out he was long gone

At least a year by then.

One of the hundreds of names reported in the newspaper that year

Tracked in a database of tats and burials.


He would have been a graphic novelist.

Made it through high school, maybe college, to finally have the chance to take all his notebook drawings and share them with the world. If he wanted to, he would have been a great dad. The kind of neighbor who mows your lawn just to be nice, and is there for a hug or tamale if you ask.


I wrote his name at the top of this poem

In hopes I’ll remember more than just how he made me feel


Proximity is a strange thing in my city.



Proximity Part II

for Immanuel G.


Proximity is a strange thing in my city

And it is painful as all hell.


At 5:30pm it could have been…(I cannot write this)


On his way to get a haircut

Lost after hours in the hospital

His name would be printed in the newspapers


Racing hearts

Worried minds

Empty chairs

So many empty chairs in my city.


I am told he was kind-

Funny and exceptionally smart in our high school of nerds


A building where loss is rarer than most.


There were too many years between us for me to know him.

But I sometimes think of him-

The deep determination and focus that almost set him free

That corner of the park I refuse to drive by


He is gone now

Two years, but it feels like less.

When I think about him, I still feel the mourning,

Communal weeping in the face of accidental tragedy



This loss I did not know

and yet it will haunt me.


Proximity is a strange thing in my city.



Proximity Part III

for all the kids


Proximity is a strange thing in my city

To privilege

To death

To water and health

To being trapped without a door or a manhole cover to get out


It’s blurry now, but I still remember first time I saw a cobra -

The green snake sprayed or chalked on the fence we passed

On our walk to the corner store after school.


The first time I noticed a gold crown

it was scrawled on the red brick outside where the big kids hung out

Then painted purple on the wooden boards of a building under construction next door.


The vaguely remember first time I was close enough to see a policeman’s gun in his holster

and feel the shiver go up my spine – it still happens every time.


Every inch of our city is marked territory

Marked by the kid on the corner

By the OGs now behind bars

By the rail cars coming from Indiana

By the Streets and Sanitation guys spraying the ugliest brown to cover it up

By the squad cars hanging out on corners and blazing the wrong way down one-way streets.

By the tan shirts camp counselors wear because literally every other color was taken and trouble.

I never got to wear the highlighter yellow ones they use to have.


Sometimes I think about what it takes to feel safe these territories

Heightened perception

White skin

Wealthy parents

Knowledge that it happens here less than four miles down or out

Telling myself that I can’t control the bullets so why be scared


Shots fired happens anywhere at any time.

I know the people who see them, but I don’t.

Knowing and not knowing.


Proximity is a strange thing in my city.