Guest Commentary

Glenn North: ‘How to Mourn a Brown Boy,’ a poem

Rosilyn Temple (fourth from right) was honored in December at a fundraiser for KC Mothers in Charge.
Rosilyn Temple (fourth from right) was honored in December at a fundraiser for KC Mothers in Charge.

Prepare while he is still alive.

Know that from the moment

your belly swelled with him

he was in the crosshairs.

Tell the boy to pull up his pants

to walk with purpose, pursue greatness

but know that it won’t protect him.

After expending your maternal energy

realize there is a competing trilogy

of blood, bone, and bullet.

If it has been 48 hours

since your last phone conversation

strengthen your index finger

for numerous redials.

Know his haunts as well as

his homies and his honeys

so they can be properly interrogated.

Have a statement prepared

for the reporters who pretend

to care, practice the 1000-yard stare

so you can look into the camera

and plead with the perpetrator

to turn himself in. Cry out

for the folks in the neighborhood

who saw something to come forward.

Don’t expect them to.

Save one tenth of all your earnings

to cover the reward money.

Stock up on candles and flowers

and teddy bears to adorn the shrine

where you will find the body

outlined in chalk. Discover the thin line

between funeral and circus.

Every member of the family or community

need not offer a eulogy.

Have an array of photos prepared

for the Rest-in-Peace T-shirts

that will need to be printed.

Clear out cabinet space

for all the napkins, paper plates

and plastic cups that will be left over after

the crowd in your home disappears.

Learn to live with the silence.

Realize that in the darkest hour

a mother’s arms have the ability

to embrace ghosts.

Steel your heart against that moment

each morning you awake

to the returning grief.

Arrive at the conclusion

that there is no substance

on earth that can fill the hole

but God can comfort the space around it.

Help the hood discern the difference

between snitch and witness

because senseless murder

is everybody’s business.

Become initiated into the sorority

no woman wants to belong to.

Know that tomorrow

it will be another mother’s son

inking the headlines.

Go to her. She will need you.

Glenn North is a Kansas City poet as well as director of education and public programs at the Black Archives of Mid-America. He delivered this poem at a fundraising reception in December for KC Mothers in Charge. The Kansas City Star’s editorial board selected the organization’s founder, Rosilyn Temple, as 2015 Citizen of the Year.