Editor’s Note: This is part 4 of a 5-part series of poems titled Red Summer. The rest of the series can be found here.
Content warning: state violence
it’s been one of those hot summers, and my apartment doesn’t have AC so it’s a little cooler outside. I sit on the metal bench by the stairs and scroll through twitter. it’s been one of those burning summers, so today there’s a video of a black family (a woman, her husband, and two babies) being held at gunpoint by the police in the parking lot behind a dollar store. the video is shot in arizona, so you can see the heat waves in the air. the wind in the video sounds hot. the voices in the video sound hot. someone in the comments says that people lose their minds in the heat, so maybe that’s why the cop says he’ll put a cap in the woman’s head. the holes would give her room to breathe, the hot wind would whistle through and come out cold and so clean. maybe that’s why when the woman says she can’t open the door, and she can’t put her hands up because she’s holding a child, the cops tell her she will be shot. maybe he thinks the heat is coming from her. maybe he thinks if he shoots her, and ends the three lives she is responsible for, things will cool off. her black body heat will no longer be a part of the equation.
how many of you are focusing on how many kids she has? don’t worry, I catch myself doing it too. as my sister’s life is in danger, the heavy skin of indoctrination presses against my own and I sweat. I drip and wonder how sweaty she is. at no point in the video do the children cry, and I wonder if this reminds them of the womb. if being so recently in a moment of heat where life and death lay atop each other
lets them have a different perspective. I wonder if they will remember this the next time they are warm.
the mother begins to cry, and begs one cop not to point the gun (read: heat transfer device) at her kids. her teardrops sizzle on the sidewalk. his voice softens, and his hands begin to shake. she says she is pregnant. he lowers his gun, and I watch the air around him begin to shimmer. he wanted to discharge some heat, channel the sweltering space around his body into someone else but goddamn it she’s pregnant, and he doesn’t know if an unborn negro deserves to die the same way a born one should. empathy is a warm embrace but it is one of those summers, and for him, the heat is unbearable.
the other cop has found the father, and slams his bare face against his cop car, and kicks his legs open. I open my legs too, and my bare skin meets the metal of the bench. he and I sizzle together and I wonder if he I we will wake up with another scar. this cop feels himself cooling down but not enough, so he tells the father he is not complying and keeps his gun (read: heat transfer device) drawn. the father apologizes, but the cop is too hot. he tells the father that if he gives him a command he must follow, and I think he has figured us out. black absorbs more heat than any other color, so the cop could ask him to take the heat from him and he could do it, he could take the cop’s heat into his own mouth and pull the trigger and swallow it.
the cop has stopped sweating as he cuffs the father, and the other cop is dripping as he cuffs the mother, and then they cuff the babies, and then the fetus, and the cuffs sizzle into their flesh so I slam my wrists into the bench and we all cook together.
other cops show up, and they ask the couple what they did, and they don’t know. a comment says the store owners called the cops because one of the kids carried a 99 cent barbie out of the store with them, and another says that they stole the cool air from the store, and another says that they failed to take the heat with grace. all capital offenses.
sweaty cop sweats, and makes his way over to the mother. when she says she hasn’t done anything, he asks if she is okay, and they sweat together. cold cop gets in her face and screams at her that when he gives her a command she must follow and points his finger at her and I watch the heat pour into her mouth. she says that she did, and that she had a fucking baby in her hands. the cop and I watch her body reject the heat and I know that she will be killed. cold cop grabs her and slams her against a car and tells her to put down her kid and the men recording step out of the shade to defend her and a wall of heat barrels toward them, and the video ends.
I scroll through the comments for a few minutes and when I look up, a cop car has parked on the street in front of me. my hands fly half of the way up, but the car is empty and the white people walking by look at me and look at me until I realize the sweat on my face makes it look like I’ve been crying. I wipe my skin’s tears with the back of my hands, and fling them onto the pavement. it’s been one of those red summers. I’ve forgotten what the other ones were like.
I am with my white friends, and I am drunk enough to forget the exact dimensions of the ravine between us. It could be a centimeter wide, is what I tell myself. They play video games and I laugh along. My drunk fingerprint struggles to unlock my phone, and I see a headline: “founder of african american history museum found dead in trunk of car”. How can there be healing when this is what our 4 AM looks like? Her spirit lays hands on my shoulders and says: promise to never forgive them. do not forget me, the hard metal edges of that trunk, the smell of my body sweating and stinking and rotting in that hot coffin. promise to never forgive them and I do. I do promise even as I love the boys sitting beside me, even as I sip the vodka again. I laugh and the hatred grows strong in the hearth of my chest. it is hot. it is summer.