RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And I'm here with MORNING EDITION poet-in-residence Kwame Alexander. Kwame, we have been covering the story of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. He was the unarmed 25-year-old black man who was out jogging when two white men, a father and a son, pulled over and shot him.
KWAME ALEXANDER, BYLINE: Yeah. And, Rachel, there's been heartbreak and outrage over this brutality, one, because of the video of the shooting that went viral, and it's just so terribly graphic, and, two, because it took a long time for these two white men to be charged and arrested. This killing actually happened back in February.
MARTIN: Right. And as the story unfolds, a lot of us are just trying to make sense of what happened, how it happened, why it happened.
ALEXANDER: And I think that's human nature, Rachel, to want to make sense of such horror. But you really can't because it's senseless. As Claudia Rankine writes, because white men can't police their imagination, black men are dying. Like most human beings, I find myself drowning in anger, anxiety, fear and still more anger. And as an American, I see the murder, the murder of African American boys as a disease that America cannot seem to cure. Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery, Dreasjon Reed - how do we keep this list from growing like an old virus? And how do I keep Mekhi (ph) and Jordan (ph) and Blair (ph) and all of my nephews' names off of it?
MARTIN: We are in such a very strange place right now. We are all living through a pandemic, sheltering in place for months on end, so many people out of work, essential workers trying to stay safe as they go to their jobs. And now there is this other level of pain on top of all of it. A young man just out for a run, and now he's gone. And we are all grieving for his mother, for his family.
ALEXANDER: A colleague of mine here in London, Phil Tiller (ph), who is a runner, wrote to me and said, I have never had to fear for my life while I went out running, never had to think, I wonder if I will be safe today. This is the privilege that I continue to feel and carry as a white man. I feel upset that particularly in the U.S., stories like these keep emerging.
MARTIN: And it's hard for everybody to absorb it. And you say it all the time, right, Kwame? Poetry gives us a voice, gives us space to understand and handle the emotional weight of it and the times we're living in.
ALEXANDER: I remembered a poem this weekend by Jericho Brown, who just last week won the Pulitzer for his transcendent poetry collection "The Tradition." I thought the poem important in this moment and something we should all hear. So I asked him to share it with us. This is "Bullet Points."
JERICHO BROWN: I will not shoot myself in the head, and I will not shoot myself in the back, and I will not hang myself with a trash bag, and if I do, I promise you, I will not do it in a police car while handcuffed or in the jail cell of a town I only know the name of because I have to drive through it to get home. Yes, I may be at risk, but I promise you, I trust the maggots who live beneath the floorboards of my house to do what they must to any carcass more than I trust an officer of the law of the land to shut my eyes like a man of God might or to cover me with a sheet so clean my mother could have used it to tuck me in. When I kill me, I will do it the same way most Americans do, I promise you - cigarette smoke or a piece of meat on which I choke or so broke I freeze in one of these winters we keep calling worst. I promise if you hear of me dead anywhere near a cop, then that cop killed me. He took me from us and left my body, which is, no matter what we've been taught, greater than the settlement a city can pay a mother to stop crying and more beautiful than the new bullet fished from the folds of my brain.
MARTIN: Wow. So we want to be able to give our listeners space to lift their voices.
ALEXANDER: That's right. I mean, it's important. We are asking you, listeners, to write a poem that helps shine a light on what's been going on in our country that helps push us toward change and perhaps explores what's next for us, chaos or community.
MARTIN: Use your words to tell us how you feel right now. You can send your poems to npr.org/communitypoem. Kwame Alexander is a regular contributor to MORNING EDITION. Thank you so much, Kwame.
ALEXANDER: And rest in peace, Ahmaud Arbery. My heart breaks for his mother, for his family. One love, people. One love, Rachel.
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