Pieta (Philando & Diamond)


charred, acrid smell of gunpowder

smokes from the holes in his body

which carries the stigma(ta) of

all things dark,

        lead from the muzzle

to the flesh, three wounds enough

to steal the soul four more

for good measure, make sure


out of         black         

skin            red            blood pools

soaks         white        cotton

smudges of death’s fingers,

colors by murders


black          red           white

red             black        white

black         black         black


Philando’s neck arches towards heavens

sake, taut skin exposes ridges of adam’s apple,

carrying  the sins of our people, life seeping

out from his body slipping down earth’s vinyl


Mary can’t hold him, she wants to cradle him

she wants to take his place, she wants

to pull him back, she wants to save

him, she wants to spare him black death,

but Mary can’t because

Mary must give witness

unable to rescue she gives witness,

the lance spearing her heart is her uselessness


Mary don’t weep

give witness


The horror, she must say sir to the murderer


to be born black is to be born with a cross-

hair on your back, a cross on every pound

of flesh that is black, of no matter

but only matter that weighs

on those who continue to love


in the Pieta,

Diamond is looking at you

while she is















(an edited version, which gives it a new urgent tone, was generously published by Cleaver Magazine)

About the Poem

When I first saw Diamond giving witness to the murder of her friend, Philando (7/6/2016), the first thought was how is she able to bear the horror enough to give witness, a poise that seemed both an admittance of her powerlessness and her power: powerlessness about the death of Philando but power to narrate the story.

As I tried to inscribe that image, another image was imposed on the streaming scene: the Pieta. Diamond looked to me like Mother Mary.

In the Pieta, Mary receives the lifeless body of her son with the deep intimacy of maternal love, but she doesn’t cover him. Rather, she presents to our eyes, the heavy head of Christ and his lifeless arched neck as a witness to the world’s cruelty.

The first draft of this poem came in a rush. But I’ve been returning to it ever since.

I returned to it tonight (6/16/2017), when I heard of the acquittal of the cop who shot him. In face of such blatant injustice, I see the crucifix more vividly. Though no death can ever be compared with another death, and certainly in Christian theology, no death carries the weight of redemption as Christ’s death, yet I think it is important to see this black man’s death as a sort of crucifixion.

Stigmata is a gift to the saints, like St. Francis of Assisi, people pure enough to receive the wounds of Christ. In a racial world where the black body is deemed as evil, dangerous and worthless, it is not just pertinent but clear-eyed to see the black body as pure and able to receive Christ’s body, that it is a human body to be held as sacred for carrying the divine image of Christ.

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