HomeSouthern VoiceTwo Poems by Patricia L. Hamilton

Two Poems by Patricia L. Hamilton

Risk Management

If you’re a cop on a sultry summer night
and you get a call about a blocked drive-thru lane at Wendy’s,
you may ask yourself if this is why you joined the force,
but you are not in danger of dying.

If upon approaching the ten-year-old Camry
you have trouble rousing the young black driver, who is sleeping,
you may not get a pee break anytime soon, as you hoped,
but you are not in danger of dying.

If you administer a field sobriety test
because the driver you’ve awakened slurs his words as if drunk,
you may lament that you’ll be late clocking off shift,
but you are not in danger of dying.

If in your attempt to arrest the drunk man
he becomes agitated and grabs your taser in the scuffle,
you may wind up getting zapped as he tries to flee,
but you are not in danger of dying.

But if you’re the black man who’s chugged too many beers
and you slump back in your seat, shutting your leaden eyes just for a minute,
better say your prayers: that pale, grim cop face looking down at you
means you surely are in danger of dying.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Sin

Explore the notion “guilty as sin.”
Trees dripping with Spanish moss frame the quiet two-lane road.
A white pickup is stopped up ahead, driver’s door flung wide open.
Does the black male jogger see the skull-and-crossbones warning,
a tiny Confederate flag on the truck’s toolbox?
As he arcs wide, does he have no premonition
he’s about to round into the barrel of a shotgun?
What flashes through his mind when the driver fires once, twice,
and they grapple? When flame rips into his gut?
In the instant before he collapses does he sense
his killer will make him out to be the guilty one
as is usual in such narratives?

Illustrate the phrase “brutal as sin.”
No-knock bullets pierce the curtains,
pepper the walls,
ping against the pans in the kitchen,
pulse into the soft black flesh of a young woman
whose job is saving lives,
awakened in the murky dark by a battering ram,
her heart, pounding a tattoo of terror,
abruptly silenced
for no reason.

Define the expression “black as sin.”
A black-clad knee
pressed against a black neck,
body stretched prone,
raspy voice begging for breath,
the weight of centuries of oppression
applied without pity
over a nine-minute eternity
for all the world to see.

Patricia L. Hamilton is a professor of English at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and the author of The Distance to Nightfall (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2014). She won the 2015 and 2017 Rash Award in Poetry and has received three Pushcart nominations. Visit her Facebook author page here, and read her previous poems in Deep South here.

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  • Elizabeth Vaughn-Neely / April 30, 2021

    These are absolutely fabulous and poignant. Brutally honest and compelling phrases pulled together with truth. Thank you.