Carnegie Mellon University

"Questions for a Black Mother" by Suhail Gharaibeh-Gonzalez

Second Place for High School Poetry

for Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley-Jones

mommy mommy what’s a police state?

A SWAT team launches a flash-bang grenade through a window.

It shatters out a song

and the orchestra of cop-blue night feeds in through the broken glass.


See, we’re in the colored section, twenty-ten—

boarded-up windows.

Graffiti pops on the side of abandoned buildings. No playgrounds here—

weeds grow tall instead.


mommy mommy what’s apartheid?


The grenade has burnt up the edge of a Disney Princess blanket.

They kick down the door and plunge into the house.


An officer’s gun cocks back. bang.


A bullet slices through the air, and it makes home

in a seven-year-old’s head. She’s asleep on the couch,

next to her grandmother. It obliterates fresh knowledge—

how to spell “cat” and how two plus two equals four. The SWAT team kicked down the door

and the little black girl was sleeping, she was playing dead anyway,

she wasn’t alive anyway,

she wasn’t human anyway anyway anyway—

black bodies plastered on tv screens. Cracked backs, gunshots,

turning clocks and every minute the pool of blood soaks deeper, autopsies, genocide by proxy,

and these very urban soldiers

appear smiling on the eleven o’clock news. Their badges shine.

mommy mommy what’s desensitization? Fluorescent lights spin.

Red carnations bloom on the little girl’s pillow.

Her grandmother holds her and weeps.

January twenty-fifteen. The officer who fired the gun is acquitted of all charges. Tears flood all of Detroit.

The news spews distortion:

Aiyana’s grandmother reached for the gun!


Did you mistake her hand flying out to stop the bullet?

Maybe she was reaching for survival, for humanity,

for protection.


The news spews the logistics of these ballistics, offering explanations for murder, but it’s simple: since slave ships first docked here,

the wombs of black women have been graveyards for their future children, fate sealed by the effigy of his race

because black children are always black before innocent— but officer Joseph Weekley’s mother smiled and beamed when he joined the police academy, saying “he has so much promise.”

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