4

In China, hospitals skip the fourth

and the fourteenth floor

because four in Mandarin Chinese

iss hi,

the same pronunciation

as the word for death.

 

In the West, however,

4 is the symbol

for the completion of justice,

for balance,

but maybe the Chinese

got it right.

 

Because on April 4th, 1968

Martin Luther King

hit a motel floor

hard enough to shake mountains

loud enough

to deafen cities.

He fell to the concrete

a father of four children

and one country

adopted into segregation.

 

The next day, among the

Symphonic chaos of breaking glass,

Baltimore burned

with the heat of furious eyes

and a thousand fires.

 

All at once, the war

documented only in newspapers

and public signposts,

as black and white as fine print,

burst into angry color.

The whitewashed American canvas

was first blotted with red, seeping,

staining, pooling in driveways,

and then orange, thick and caustic

for the burning crosses brandished

by Tennessee’s ivory footsoldiers.

The people of America marched on asphalt

as gray as the soot dusting over demolished

shop windows,

voices rising like the smoke over D.C.,

“We March With Selma.

All Men Are Created Equal,

and I Am a Man.”

 

On April 4th, 2015

four days before I turned seventeen

four minutes from the high school

that preached to us about equality,

police sirens shrieked like the call

of harpies chasing prey -

a 1991 Mercedes with a broken taillight.

Walter Scott fled into the grey morning

as eight rounds cracked behind him

like snapping branches.

He was dead before he hit the grass

a father of four

forty-seven years after King.

Four for death, seven for luck

a fierce battle of wills snuffed out

by bad luck

and a police officer.

 

If it took only one bullet to shake America,

five hits in the back should bring it

to its knees and crumble it to dust,

but all is quiet on our battlefield.

 

To our country,

he is just another blip

on the bleeding timeline

of thousands of names before him.

 

Poetry Slam: 
This poem is about: 
My country
Poetry Terms Demonstrated: 

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