When We Were Cops by Jane McCafferty

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

When we were cops
In that other world,
A world we have only
We tried swaddling history in our arms
And setting it down  under a tree.
But history wept so loud, so long and hard,
We knew we had to pick it up, knew
It was ours forever-- that it would grow
But never outgrow its’ need for embrace.
 If we were white, we had to
Take Listening To Black People 101,
A course that met nightly for three hours
In a green field for ten years.  
If we were black ,
We who had been listening to white
Sound for so many years through so
Many loud speakers, we had to sit down
And whisper of selves we never wanted
To be and had to be.
 It was required for all to take
Introduction to the History of Dead Unarmed Black Boys.
We learned of their lives
And the lives they never lived
We were tested
On the dreams of their mothers.  
All of us had to take
An Introduction To Breathing This Air
And near the end
We gave oral presentations  shining
Light on the rage
On the shame
Choking the rivers within
We came to see our damage
Was mighty, ordinary,
Our red throats scorched with unnamed
Truths.  We knew
We were dying
Like everyone else
of hatred and secrets and fear.
This all took years, but afterwards,
Nothing was the same.
Or at least
We never let another unarmed black son
Die with his hands up in the air β€”
As if it was beyond him to believe
Anyone could shoot someone
Who stood there so young and exposed
To the way things are in this world.

Jane McCafferty is author of four books of fiction and co-author of one book of poetry. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio and awarded The Drue Heinz prize, a Booksense award, two pushcarts and a National Endowment for the Arts award. She works and lives in Pittsburgh.