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4th of July: San Bernardino 2015
South of the freeway fireworks spit
out the whole of July.
Booms blare louder than backfires,
thundering into sky.
My friend says, no one cares if we burn
ourselves down here.
Past 30th we spark and catch fire
We brittle as palm leaves; we dry as
brush and concrete.
Here on 10th, we prop up cannons on
poles of chain-link fences.
Here on 10th, dogs howl or cower as
fire hungry teens slow
cars with their jolting limbs crashing into
each other in the center
of the street like this is the center
of the world.
I’m always leaving, but this still remains
the center of my world,
my sun center, hottest part of ache,
my core of joy. Sometimes
it is too much and I have to shield
my vision, where I pain
easily. This is the concrete, asphalt and
chain-link Brother and I grew from.
When Brother tattooed this street
into his arm Mother thought:
now he would never leave. This was partial
truth. This street, these numbers
had dug their way into his ruddy skin
As a boy before cell phones chirped, buzzed or
pinged he’d call to his friends
down the street with a high pitched animal whistle.
This is the way 10th sings
city, sings of lives undiagnosed of witness and
hurt. Even the dogs learn this tune.
It’s been four years since Brother’s murder,
and I ask myself:
when will I be post of post-traumatic?
Post guilt, post disturbance,
post fireworks sounding only like fireworks?
I try to enjoy Youngest Nephew’s
face as Uncle wows him by lighting
fireworks, puncturing open the night,
marking 10th with smoke and light.
Tonight I only see faces bright
with smiles and think nothing of
flag or country.
a few notes about public grief
1) don’t get angry, instead forgive, put up photos, take down photos, give away his/her clothes. no save everything.
2) don’t numb your pain with drink, smoke or sex.
3) don’t cry at work three years later because you hear a song that reminds you of him/her.
4) don’t slap away the fingers of a co-worker who tries to touch a locket of his/her ashes hanging around your neck. if you have to cry, do it politely or in a manly way or unobtrusively in a shower with the water running or in an individual locked bathroom stall. remember to nod your head yes when a stranger/ family member tells you he/she is in a better place now. nod your head to inane comments about “god’s plan.”
5) don’t scream or protest or grow small and silent. don’t get mad when your city can’t afford a sketch artist, or won’t indict or keeps on pushing back the trial, rescheduling and rescheduling, so you wait and you wait and wait, going back to court every six months for six years to have a chance to testify; a chance to say his/her name the same way you say love. if you come to the courthouse, try to look respectable. comb your hair back, wear minimal makeup, wear a dress but not too tight or bright. wear a collared shirt and slacks. shave.
6) don’t look too tattooed. don’t look too uneducated. don’t look too brown or black. don’t look too human, like a person who has made mistakes or has a drink at the end of a long day. don’t look like a person who laughs too loudly with a mouth of joy or someone whose body sobs history because that will make you look too brown or too black or too other. remember, you want the judge, officials, and jury to identify with you. don’t give them reason to see you as a thug, gangster or whore. don’t give them a chance to see you as too black or too brown, or too foreign.
7) don’t cry too much in public/courthouses because people will think you just want attention or there is something wrong with you. better get some help or medication. but if you never cry in public/courthouses that is just weird. better get some help or more medication. sit patiently, not looking too brown, too black or too poor. always remember don’t anger. don’t anger when police are quick to kill with hands or guns, whatever works. don’t anger when you realize that whoever killed your loved one will never be prosecuted. move on. let him/ her “rest” but don’t joke about death because death is no laughing matter. don’t talk too much about your memories of him/her because you are bringing everyone down.
8) one final note, if the death involves some kind of injustice don’t talk about that either. if you do you will sound too black or too brown–too angry.
Bio: Casandra Lopez is a Chicana, Cahuilla, Tongva and Luiseño writer and educator who has received fellowships from CantoMundo and Jackstraw. She has been selected for residencies with the Santa Fe Art Institute, School of Advanced Research and Hedgebrook. Her poetry chapbook Where Bullet Breaks was published by the Sequoyah National Research Center and her hybrid chapbook, After Bullet is forthcoming from Yellow Chair Press. She is the managing editor of As Us: A Space For Writers Of The World.