Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Arlene Weiner: A Photo of Jalen, Age 12, in a Batman Costume

Where did you learn to cross your arms, frown
(not frown, unsmile), forbidding like the Nation
of Islam guards I once saw break up
a feel-good meeting, accusing a respectable 
Black councilman of luring boys in the park
back when an Urban League officer joked
We don’t talk about Black Power, just Dark
Strength? The councilman had brought his little 
     daughter,
dressed in ruffled pink, left with her in a hurry.
 
Your first mother and father gone, like Bruce
Wayne’s. To avenge the living dead, the self-
murdered living, the gone, the best revenge
is living well, and boy, if I may call you boy,
live well. Live long. A paper I just read
says, “disarming mechanisms”… that signal 
warmth, humility, or deference—
can lead to greater power and success 
among minorities by making them appear less 
threatening and adversarial to dominant groups.
 
Sure, we get that, Smile, smile, smile,
unfold those arms, sit (do you have to be
so tall?) but be ready to jump through hoops.
Say yes, sir when the officers stop you
for the fourteenth time, looking 
for somebody lighter than you, shorter than you, 
or on spec: your tail-light’s cracked, you fail
to maintain lane, you’re Driving While Black.
 
Say no when somebody’s girlfriend
leans into you in a bar. No, say nothing, 
No might offend, Yes will offend. To be safer
avoid the bar, women, luxury cars, hoodies, 
caps—or keep them to doff to the dominant—
and playful gang signs. Go out for track
but don’t run cross-country. 
 
Did I tell you, you look terrific, I like the way 
you look? With the nerd glasses that you need 
to read and build with Legos, with your wide 
smile and as Batman too: Proud, manly, 
though I’d rather see you without the mask.

Copyright 2016 Arlene Weiner. From City Bird by Arlene Weiner (Ragged Sky, 2016).

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