Poem for Michael Brown

Home is return
Home is a familiar
end of the day, fireplace
screen-saver casting sleep across the room
Door closed when you return means safety
lights still off, as they should be
You beautiful human aglimmer in the flicker who
I know I don’t know
alone as I am hurtling through space
I splash water on my face in the tiny
bathroom, the door locked
There is a sound of pulling on the other side
I am returning home on a plane, unaware of myself
and washing my unexceptional hands
When I open the door, he stands there, pushes
me back
What are you doing, he says
What are you doing
I answer, Do you need the bathroom
He hears my voice, untenses
Where are you from
California, who are you
Where are you really from
I’m Latino, who are you
You went inside the bathroom, he says
and we can’t be too careful these days
Do you work for the airline
No, he says
It’s the beard, he adds, you look Muslim
I am cornered in the airplane bathroom touching my beard
But you are a police officer for the airline
But you work here
There is no end, the conversation continues
long after the plane lands, long after
I carry myself
back through the city
Returned home, what am I
but what I am to others
pushed against a turbulent wall, unaware of myself
To return means change
Our home and its new
layer of dust
even in its silence has shifted with the earth
What are you, beautiful human, piston
throttling inside your chest
Around you a barrier
divides the complex, trees
raise their russet branches
The warped scaffold raises its green against the sky
It continues, raised in the air
Everyone is a low-rise apartment
burning to the ground
I know I can never know
who you were to yourself, alone
as you were, hurtling through
the vision of people around you
as you walked through the middle of the street
The door is open
Your home is a silence
where we can only and at best
untense, look beyond the sudden
noon sun blooming above
your tennis shoes, your letterman’s jacket
your irreplaceable dust




Paul Hlava is a teacher and poet who has been awarded a Poets House fellowship, Cave Canem workshop and was named a Best New Poet 2012 by Matthew Dickman. Poems of his have appeared in Narrative, BOMB, the LA Times and PEN Poetry Series, among others.



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