Reginald Dwayne Betts

For the City That Nearly Broke Me (A woman tattoos Malik’s name)

A woman tattoos Malik’s name above

her breast & talks about the conspiracy

to destroy blacks. This is all a fancy way

to say that someone kirked out, emptied

five or six or seven shots into a warm body.

No indictment follows Malik’s death,

follows smoke running from a fired pistol.

An old quarrel: crimson against concrete

& the officer’s gun still smoking.

Someone says the people need to stand up,

that the system’s a glass house falling on only

a few heads. This & the stop snitching ads

are the conundrum and damn all that blood.

All those closed eyes imagining Malik’s

killer forever coffled to a series of cells,

& you almost believe them, you do, except

the cognac in your hand is an old habit,

a toast to friends buried before the daybreak

of their old age. You know the truth

of the talking, of the quarrels & how

history lets the blamed go blameless for

the blood that flows black in the street;

you imagine there is a riot going on,

& someone is tossing a trash can through

Sal’s window calling that revolution,

while behind us cell doors keep clanking closed,

& Malik’s casket door clanks closed,

& the bodies that roll off the block

& into the prisons and into the ground,

keep rolling, & no one will admit

that this is the way America strangles itself.



“For the City That Nearly Broke Me” is performed with Tsitsi Jaji, and is from Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015).