Mouth of Justice by Rachelle Cruz

Before my shift on New Year's Eve,
I slicked my hair back,
traveled the night with my men
maintaining our hard faces
at the girls miniskirted, stumbling
and immune to the cold.

Midnight, noise peeled
my ears.  Fights on the BART
train, Fremont bound.  Suspects:
African American, male; Hispanic,
male; Asian, male.  Halted
train of partiers tried not
to drown standing. These men
lurched toward us, tight-jawed, boiling.
Against the wall, against the wall,
orders at the ends of our teeth.

This wasn't the first black kid
who tightened his eyes
against mine as if to blame me
like some kind of mirror,
not the first to burn his
every broken heart into the creases
of my face, and the newspapers
say he struggled, they say he
asked me not to shoot, that
he pleaded with the name
of his four-year-old daughter.
Nadia, Nadia...

What I see everyday, no one
else sees, in West Oakland,
they're always frying their insides
to worship some god that won't blow
specks of gold into their ears,
but I've helped toothless old ladies
with their disabled
parking, I've smiled at the Mexican
kids sucking on hot candy, messing
up their tastebuds, see, see...

But that mouth crushed into the platform
and words hung at the lip, I swear
to God, in the name of protection, peace
rose from a vandal's back,
the quick blast cooled my hand.

Standstill.  Nadia, Nadia.
I remember that name eating
concrete instead of birthday cake,
I remember that goddamn air
that respired both sets of our lungs,
but I eat this air like mercury.

I sit here.  Riots
on 17th and Webster on television
like another ethnic parade explosion
left to rot.  By night, I smoke in the living
room with the windows open, streetlights
blinking themselves on.  



Contributor Notes

“Mouth of Justice” was written in reaction to the murder of Oscar Grant, a young African American man, on New Year's Eve 2009 by the BART Police. After Grant's death, according to the SF Chronicle, Officer Mehserle resigned from his position and avoided investigative interviews. This silence prompted this poem to exist when Mehserle's mouth failed to speak. Born and raised in Hayward, like Oscar Grant, I could only try to understand my disgust, sadness, regret towards this crime through the healing powers of poetry.