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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, May 1, 2018.
About this Poem 

“I wrote the first draft of ‘Mercy, Mercy, Me’ in late April of 2017, a few days before the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Rodney King riots. While on a trip to Los Angeles earlier that month, I looked for old addresses and other childhood landmarks only to find that many had been razed in the fires, while others were lost to time and neglect. I’m not sure, but I think writing the poem was my way of processing memory, grief, and the loss of an already tenuous sense of home.”
—John Murillo

Mercy, Mercy, Me

Crips, Bloods, and butterflies.
   A sunflower somehow planted
in the alley. Its broken neck.
   Maybe memory is all the home
you get. And rage, where you 
   first learn how fragile the axis
upon which everything tilts.
   But to say you’ve come to terms 
with a city that’s never loved you
   might be overstating things a bit.
All you know is there was once
   a walk-up where now sits a lot,
vacant, and rats in deep grass
   hide themselves from the day.
That one apartment fire
   set back in ’76—one the streets
called arson to collect a claim—
   could not do, ultimately, what
the city itself did, left to its own dank
   devices, some sixteen years later.
Rebellions, said some. Riots, 
   said the rest. In any case, flames;
and the home you knew, ash.
   It’s not an actual memory, but
you remember it still: a rust-
   bottomed Datsun handed down,
then stolen. Stripped, recovered,
   and built back from bolts.
Driving away in May. 1992.
   What’s left of that life quivers 
in the rearview—the world on fire,
   and half your head with it.

Copyright © 2018 by John Murillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by John Murillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 1, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

John Murillo

John Murillo

John Murillo is the author of the poetry collections Up Jump the Boogie (Cypher Books 2010) and Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, forthcoming from Four Way Books.