Say Their Names

Say Their Names

I don’t pretend to know what was going through his mind. I can only imagine what it was like to feel the throbbing of the caught man’s neck beneath his sharp-boned knee—at first acute, then weakening as he pressed, and kept pressing. Did the stiff fabric of his trousers prevent him from noticing the slowing movement of blood through the man’s veins? Did the whimpers of pain, pleas for release that emanated from the shadowy flesh he’d so handily pinned to the ground fail to reach his ears through the fray? As onlookers began to gather, growing more vociferous—what in jesus were they going on about—the crescendoing clamor began to fuel that all-too-familiar rage, a flaming orb swirling in his gut, its heat rising up, swelling his head. It hurt but it made him so feel alive.

You wouldn’t know it by his eyes—glassy—his mouth a line of resolute calm, the free hand in his pocket fingering his keys. Soon, he would leave this place. The oil-grimed asphalt, the dingy neighborhood. The stink of urine and vomit, the squalor. His back started to ache; he needed to shift positions but, naw. He would hold—this was a test. He drew a breath, steadied himself. Perhaps he was thinking of the lake; he would leave early Friday, get a head start. Too bad it was only Monday. He could be on the water by mid-afternoon, out on the shimmering, cool waters where there would be no dark bodies save the sleek bass. Too bad Florida was out of the question. Salt-spray instead of salty sweat, and that warm Florida sun pinking his shoulders and the back of his neck, the pure, cloudless sky above. How he craved feeling the weight of a shiny-skinned marlin on the end of his arching line, that massive body snapping his hook.

I don’t know how many hours were left in his shift; he seemed to have all the time in the world. No place to go. At least the body beneath him had quieted. It was only when the ambulance arrived that he became aware that the man under his knee had gone completely limp as they rolled him onto the gurney. No more fight—in fact, the man had never given him battle, it was as if he’d already given up, his body seizing like a bass desperate for water after the hard landing in the bottom the boat. The moments of triumph are so fleeting.

The man felt his chest tighten, his heart ready to explode. It was like one of those dreams where you know you have to be somewhere but you are trapped, you try to speak but when you move your lips there is no sound. Everything hurt. After a long, long while, he felt the faintest breath on the surface of his skin, cool and soothing. His mother was whispering to him, holding her arms out to him and he took them into his own.


Copyright © 2020 by Lia Rivamonte


This poem is dedicated to the memory of George Floyd and all of our Black brothers and sisters who have died at the hands of the police. May they rest in peace and in power and may their lives and brutal deaths be the catalyst for transforming the unsustainable, racist policies that have prevailed from the beginning and throughout the history of the United States of America. Black Lives Matter.