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Volume 13 • Number 1 • Spring-Summer 2021

Michael Kleber-Diggs

Seismic Activities

My father died at the edge of spring My daughter was born as summer waned unexpected like an earthquake There is no way to prepare for rapture or rupturing a disruption when everything when what you know and who you are becomes something else is subsumed is ravaged by flame then remade I loved my father but he frightened me I recall being invaded by fear Once, he sent rage like fire into my face I reeled staggered and dizzy burning nerves I had a hard time keeping my feet on the ground I tried to figure out what I’d done to deserve torture so total I wanted my father to be a blessing a miracle for me something more than my tormentor and he was beautiful too heartbreakingly beautiful I remember playing baseball one autumn I probably imagined innocence a shield I was a child we were in our backyard not much later I’d set my girl down mean, my rage a ball I threw––dad put a hurtin’ on it a sphere shaped like a fist so fast with such velocity everything froze I jerked back from it instinctively a bullet, a bullet, a bullet, a bullet You never forget the shape of a shocked mouth all around us grass was browned wilted spoiled I can pinpoint the moment the earth shook and came apart the house moved my mirror fell and shattered I learned death travels at 2500 feet per second I saw yesterdays and tomorrows I found out (those who love us can destroy us) (we can destroy those we love Listen) the ball cleared the yard and entered the woods no one can hurt like those who’ve been hurt like my father no one can hurt like me


Another Black Man Killed in Police Custody Dies After Coma

Baltimore, Maryland Sandtown-Winchester area of West Baltimore.
Police officers abused apprehended
a 25-year-old black man male named Freddie Gray
after for allegedly finding him in possession of a knife switchblade.

The officers threw Mr. Gray into the back of a police van.
The officers placed the suspect into a department vehicle.

He was handcuffed at the time in keeping with standard protocol.
The officers gave Mr. Gray a “rough ride,”
which is also known as a “cowboy ride” or a “nickel ride,”

transported the suspect to a detention facility for questioning.

As a result of injuries sustained in the rough ride
Mr. Gray broke his spinal cord and severely damaged his larynx.
The police officers ignored his requests for help at least three separate times
and let him suffer without aid of any kind.

Upon arrival, the officers noticed the suspect appeared to be injured.
Eventually, pParamedics were called, and he was transported to a hospital.
Mr. Gray was resuscitated and underwent extensive surgery
to repair his larynx.
Despite these best efforts,

Mr. Gray the suspect fell into a coma, and, a week later, died
as a direct result of injuries sustained while in police custody.

Police encountered Mr. Gray the suspect
on the morning of April 12, 2015,
in the Sandtown-Winchester area of West Baltimore.

Mr. Gray Unprovoked, the suspect attempted to flee on foot,
but police chased and tackled detained him, searched him,
found a knife switchblade in his pocket,
and took him into custody at 8:40 a.m.

Two bystanders captured Mr. Gray's arrest with video recordings
showing Mr. Gray being dragged into the van by officers.

A bystander who knew Mr. Gray said the officers were "folding" him.

Folding is a tactic often deployed by the Baltimore Police Department
wherein one officer bends a citizen’s legs backwards
while another officer holds the citizen down by putting a knee on his or her neck.

Another person witnessed Mr. Gray being beaten with batons.

Freddie Gray was the son of Gloria Darden.
He had a twin sister, Fredericka, and another sister, Carolina.

At the time of his death, Mr. Gray The suspect lived
in a house owned by his sisters in the notorious Gilmor Homes neighborhood.
He was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 145 pounds

The suspect was later identified as “Freddie” Gray.
As with many young men growing up under similar circumstances —
marginalized, disenfranchised, and unheard, Mr. Gray

He had a lengthy criminal record;
mainly for misdemeanors and drug-related offenses.

Gray had been arrested a total of 22 times in Maryland.
He had been involved in 20 criminal court cases—
five of which were still active at the time of his death.

The unnamed police officers who killed Mr. Gray who took Gray into custody
are on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation.



for K.K.D.

On a weekday morning we made our way to work
as a dense fog held low against the city, clouds

descended to earth. You were on foot. Surrounded
by fox and deer, you could not see. I was miles away,

crossing a bridge over the Minnesota River. Mist
gathered just above the water made me think of marriage.

I returned to a difficult day, a week before our wedding
when we went for an ultrasound. Your chatty nurse

fell quiet as she scanned your belly. We stared into
a mysterious gray. Later, you called to let me know

what we lost. We became apparitions. I came to you.
I lay beside you in silence. For the first time,

I held your soft body to mine and felt sadness.
That was the day we were married. That was the day

I realized marriage expands two lives to one.
That was the day I grasped ache as hunger,

misery within desire, how our days show us many
different forms. I remembered this that foggy morning

watching water wait above water, and again today,
our other anniversary. My love, I make this to tell you––

you made me right: everything is amplified. Joy doubles, as
does pain. The endless work of the river, the haze around it,

remind us of truth we know by heart: our vision is limited,
yet, we sense where currents run deep and run long.


Superman and My Brother, Spiderman and Me

My brother and I were born to educated, middle-class parents
eleven days after Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Our home aspired to non-violence––no gun culture, no
guns. Even then, folks knew black boys in a white city needed

more than parental desire to keep them safe; they understood
about misunderstandings. Even then, black boys were shot

in parks playing games children play. So, when we turned
seven, instead of squirt guns, we got puffy superhero heads

that sprayed water from their mouths when pulling the trigger.
We delighted to comic-book legends spitting on our friends

at our behest. It was the boys on the block with their pistols
and revolvers who always shot harder and farther,

against Superman and my brother, Spiderman and me.
We gave as good as we got until we were exhausted;

what we lacked in strength we made up with capacity.
1975, just before the bicentennial––summer suggested

it would never end, but autumn always comes. One
month before our next birthday, our father was shot

and killed in his office. He was a dentist. I tell you that
for a reason. I use educated and middle-class for a reason.

I don’t want you to think our Dad had it coming. I want
you to focus on something else––our parents’ designs

were undone anyway; there is no sanctuary in the theater.
Lost for months in our bedroom, our desperate island,

we began to confront a loss that reveals itself still. I spent
my allowance on comic books, dreaming of rough places

made plain, trying to hew hope from a mountain of despair,
all the time asking, as I continue to ask: What chance do we have,

dear brother? What can we do if none of our heroes will save us?


End of Class

Black boy in the backseat of a cop car
across the street from my daughter’s jr. high,

hands cuffed behind his back: hard to see
him like that. It’s an attractive afternoon

here among the thriving—snow gleaming, sun
descending on the best block in the city. I have

friends who live nearby so I’m sure I fit right
in with the professors and rich folk. But him?

He’s barely surviving the day, looks at me
from his sick situation as if to say: Fuck your pity!

Canary in a coalmine, negro in the pipeline:
his life is full of stressors. He’s in the wrong

system too soon—tragedies intertwining. In
the rearview mirror, I meet my own dark face

and sigh. I’m angry, sad, chagrined. At least
until my sweet kid climbs inside next to me.

She’s as happy as can be before I point to
the scene to ask what the boy did. Oh, Felix?

He’s pretty cool. Sometimes he can be mean. I think
he’s on probation.
That’s all she has to say.

I pat her arm and start the car, then we drive
away. Our house is not that far from here.

Michael Kleber-Diggs is a poet, essayist, and literary critic. His debut poetry collection, Worldly Things, won the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize and will be published by Milkweed Editions in June of this year. Among other places, Michael’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Great River Review, Water~Stone Review, Poem-a-Day, Poetry Daily, Poetry Northwest, Potomac Review, Hunger Mountain, Memorious, and a few anthologies. Michael is a past Fellow with the Givens Foundation for African American Literature, a past-winner of the Loft Mentor Series in Poetry, and the former Poet Laureate of Anoka County libraries. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and has been supported by the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Jerome Foundation. Michael is married to Karen Kleber-Diggs, a tropical horticulturist and orchid specialist. Karen and Michael have a daughter who is pursuing a BFA in Dance Performance at SUNY Purchase.