Mark Doty
In Two Seconds



                            Tamir Rice,  2002 - 2014



                                       the boy’s face 

climbed back down the twelve-year tunnel 


of its becoming,  a charcoal sunflower 

swallowing itself. Who has eyes to see, 


or ears to hear? If you could see 

what happens fastest, unmaking


the human irreplaceable, a star 

falling into complete gravitational 


darkness from all points of itself, all this:


the held loved body into which entered 

milk and music,  honeying the cells of him:


who sang to him, stroked the nap 

of the scalp, kissed the flesh-knot


after the cord completed its work 

of fueling into him the long history 


of those whose suffering

was made more bearable 


by the as-yet-unknown of him,


playing alone in some unthinkable 

future city, a Cleveland, 


whatever that might be. 

Two seconds. To elapse:


the arc of joy in the conception bed,

the labor of hands repeated until 


the hands no longer required attention,

so that as the woman folded 


her hopes for him sank into the fabric 

of his shirts and underpants. Down 


they go, swirling down into the maw 

of a greater dark. Treasure box,


comic books, pocket knife, bell from a lost cat’s collar,

why even begin to enumerate them


when behind every tributary 

poured into him comes rushing backward 


all he hasn’t been yet. Everything 

that boy could have thought or made, 


sung or theorized, built on the quavering 

but continuous structure


that had preceded him sank into 

an absence in the shape of a boy


playing with a plastic gun in a city park 

in Ohio, in the middle of the afternoon. 


When I say two seconds, I don’t mean the time 

it took him to die. I mean the lapse between


the instant the cruiser braked to a halt 

on the grass, between that moment


and the one in which the officer fired his weapon.

The two seconds taken to assess the situation


I believe it is part of the work 

of poetry to try on at least

the moment and skin of another, 


for this hour I respectfully decline.


I refuse it. May that officer 

be visited every night of his life

by an enormity collapsing in front of him


into an incomprehensible bloom,

and the voice that howls out of it.


If this is no poem then…


But that voice –- erased boy, 

beloved of time, who did nothing 

to no one and became 


nothing because of it –- I know that voice 

is one of the things we call poetry.

It isn’t only to his killer he’s speaking.

Found In Volume 44, No. 03
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Mark Doty
About the Author

Mark Doty's most recent book is What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life (W.W. Norton & Co., 2020).