Scott Beal

Then Drones Started Delivering Packages

if you needed a book about the Boxer rebellion
to read over lunch
or a laser-sighting level
to hang an oil portrait of your grandfather
it arrived fast as a pizza
with no zipping hiss
no streak of heat through the air
the sky began to fill with black shapes
you'd think bats in daytime
or crowds flying kites
down State Street
there was always a buzz in your ear
you'd swat your neck
then catch the tail of a drone pass over
and no one after needed a crutch or a coffin
sometimes a pistol would crack
when Bob next door decided he had a right
to the airspace over his house
a wounded drone might plow into your tree
or through a windshield on State Street
the mother and two kids she'd had
buckled in the back seat
would come on at six o'clock
singing the drone's praise
for crashing softly into the empty
passenger seat
then the TV would go black
as a drone tangled in power lines down the block
someone wouldn't receive
their Miley Cyrus album promptly
and the food in your fridge would grow sour
and no one had to figure out
which family should bury which bone
on cloudless days there were shadows
as the drones moved in flocks
committees dismissed concerns
that migrations were being diverted
federal authorities pursued a hacker
who altered the Netflix flight pattern database
to send documentaries on Yemen and Pakistan
to the offices of prominent senators
who suffered no disfiguring burns or hearing loss
and no one argued whether the victims were militants
people spent thousands on ebony coffins
into which grandfathers were laid
with medals pinned to their lapels
they didn't look exactly like themselves
with their lips sewn shut
and their intact limbs tucked into parade uniforms
when winches lowered them into the ground
people sang or cast handfuls of dust
there were no rifle salutes
and no one flinched
when a drone hovered down
to set a basket of carnations
at the precise coordinates of the stone

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Good White People

I keep hearing in our voices, when we talk about it
at all, the tendency to say Mike Brown,
Eric Garner, and so many others
, with a sweeping
hand to acknowledge there's no way to fit
the names of all black people now murdered by police
into the space of a conversation, which is true enough.
But it sounds also as if we could hardly be expected
to remember the names of those we've met so briefly,
as if at the AWP conference, faces
we've glimpsed then dropped our eyes
to scan their lanyards. Sometimes we'll remember
Trayvon Martin, or go all the way back
to Oscar Grant, which may be a code
for I-paid-attention-before-Facebook-made-me-
pay-attention.
                    Last year I heard the poet Roger Reeves
discuss the perils of spreading images of dead black bodies,
in our lines, in our Facebook feeds, and Reeves argues
we do it because we enjoy them. Not only in the sense
that indignation is a powerful sensation,
or that adding our trickle to the glowing pot of rage
bubbling out of our screens makes us feel we belong,
but in the legal sense, as one enjoys the use
of property—as one peeks out, say, through the screen
door into his back yard and can choose to mow
or neglect the grass, can plant white roses or set out a chair
and sip Arnold Palmers. And if it makes you
uneasy to think of yourself enjoying a video
of a man shot in the back or a child shot in the head
or a man being strangled in broad daylight
(and if the connection between black bodies and property
doubles your discomfort),
you should feel uncomfortable, and I should feel uncomfortable
writing them into these lines, which is not to say
I should remain silent.
                    Last year I heard the poet Mark Doty
read his poem “Two Seconds” about the shooting of Tamir Rice,
the second time in his career, Doty said, that he'd managed
a poem of political rage about an event he did not experience
personally, and now only because the intersecting scales of time
(two seconds vs. twelve years vs. the vastness of potential
futures collapsed into an entry wound) dovetailed
with the dilations and explosions of time he'd been exploring
in his latest work. And I don't mean to shit on Mark Doty
for joining a panel about “reimagining the political poem”
and speaking honestly as he could about the perils of appropriation
or spewing bland cutups of the available narratives. Nor to suggest
that the poem wasn't good. The voice displayed a humanizing
imagination which moved me, until the poem turned
to speaking about the necessity of poetry
itself, so that the generations of care and labor that time had poured
into this irreproducible smiling child and all the ways that child
had made and experienced his own twelve years on earth and all the time
leading from his grave like a slideshow of burned out bridges
became steps in a logical proof pointing to an idea we were to understand
as larger. And I might be guilty myself,
I suspect the voice that wonders if this counts as a poem,
if I should cobble it into blank verse to catch some editor's eye
or if I should speak plain, and invoke the names of Wordsworth
and Whitman for permission, good canonical white names.
But I see Tamir Rice's death kindled both a deep honest rage
in Doty but also a recognition of convenience, and I think Reeves
is onto something in the way so many deaths in this endless string
have been enjoyed.
                    Roger Reeves and I were at the same party
that night but I didn't introduce myself, though we have a mutual
friend who said I should, and to tell Reeves he says hello,
and that hello I carried like a letter of introduction
to a distant barony. But Reeves was engaged
in vibrant conversation with friends mostly of color,
and I felt he didn’t need me to claim space
within his celebration. Which is an impulse I think
good white people could better heed. But then
I also suspect this kind of thinking kept me
from talking to many black people at all through my twenties,
and not talking to black people is both a symptom and cause
of the shrinking scope of who we consider people to be,
which lets us run our thumb over their names
like a deck of cards, hearing the collective murmur of clubs
and hearts, like the first sounds of spring
rising up in the yard, a rustle,
signaling another season
has arrived as it was due.

 


Scott Beal is the author of Wait ‘Til You Have Real Problems (Dzanc Books, 2014). His chapbook The Octopus won the 2015 Gertrude Press Poetry Chapbook Contest and was published in 2016.  His poems have appeared recently in Vinyl, Pleiades, Cincinnati Review, Linebreak, Forklift Ohio, and other journals. He teaches in the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan and co-hosts the monthly Skazat! reading series in Ann Arbor.