The 2River View 28.1 (Fall 2023)

Bern Mulvey


Like so much else, it started with a door
opened under a green light, a walk
elsewhere, outside the sun in our eyes,
traffic below a sigh and again sigh,
still air hot, heavy with LA smog.
Summer, so we were looking for trouble,
though too young yet to know where to go,
what to do if we found it, before
Kaepernick, before Defund and BLM,
before even iPhones, the three of us
a UN, a smorgasbord of race, we
talked big plans and punched the sky, waiting
for answers, as boys did, certain something
would come for us. When the police arrived,
two for each, we thought they wanted someone
else, stood up tall to see, like the dodos
we watched our destroyers, fists then batons,
then later the Van Nuys adult lockup
at night. I remember that surprise, 
how fear and pain became a great anger,
how told by one cop You’re going to be
deported, I shouted back, I’m from Brooklyn,
fucker, and raised the middle finger
of one bloody hand. Yet they were always
coming, for us, for you, good, bad, justice,
not—the fairy tales you grow up with
in a country where rape gets one boy
probation, a whistle by another
death. We were fifteen, would get out
the next morning, the next month charges
would be dropped, our records expunged
we would be declared free, safe, innocent,
but we knew, we knew them now,
and they would tremble.

State Hospital, Phonpei

They say everyone goes twice,
to be born, and to die. I
am getting tests. The nurse
wipes dust off the machine
display, then when it still
will not work, reaches down
to turn it on. Waiting
for the results, I watch
a large family gathered
about an old woman.
Her skin is tarp over bone,
stare vacant, but they surround
her with such joy, teasing,
tales and touch, the daily
routine of life. And then
her eyes focus, one arm
rises, shaking, so slow,
shy, one finger extends
as she touches the foot
of the infant held by
a mother beside her—
the effort required in
this simple act. May each
of us end our days so,
with strength remembered,
and youth and love
just within reach.

Bern Mulvey is the author of The Fat Sheep Everyone Wants, which won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize; his second book, Deep Snow Country, won the FIELD Poetry Prize. 
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