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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, September 14, 2016.
About this Poem 

“This poem arose out of what feels like non-stop thinking about race, terrorism, the history (and routes) of slavery, gun violence, geography, Christianity, the oppression of marginalized groups, and their many metaphorical—as well as literal—confluences. I thought writing this poem would help me with that. It has not. These events are part of our identities as individuals and as Americans.”
—Dean Rader

Self-Portrait in Charleston, Orlando

The news this morning
said that Ramadi
had fallen to ISIS
and that the president
did not have a plan
to push them back
into the Anbar province
though I have a plan
to walk down to the
beach in silence perhaps
where I will stand
in water the temperature
of most corpses
and look out over
the shapeless ocean—
its waves shifting from
one color to the next,
this moment the shade
of an old bruise—
toward Japan,
which I imagine I see
across the map of
motion, that mystical
country which has
almost completely
ridden itself of guns,
like the one the boy
used to shoot nine
people assembled
to worship a man whose
skin history tells us
was the same color
as theirs, that mythical
man who may have walked
the streets of Ramadi in
those missing years
between his youth and
his destiny, and who
knows how many
of the slain
he may have raised
in those streets,
or pulled up out
of night into the
long daylight of the
not-yet-lived,
birthed back into
the skin of suffering,
or how many the man
might have dipped
into those mythical waters
that eventually emptied into
the Gulf of Oman and then
into the Arabian Sea
before their long walk
of waves across
time and history
to South Carolina and
into Charleston
but then retreating to
work their way down
the Eastern coast of
Florida and perhaps
even inland to
Orlando and then
back out again around
every country, every
boat, every body before
arriving on the beaches
of San Francisco on
the far end of the other
side of that mythical
continent, perhaps
even where I am
standing, the water’s
color like a bullet, and I
wonder if all life is
somehow loaded into
the chamber of a rifle,
the long tunnel of
darkness before us
our birthright and even
our destiny, all of it
as close to the hammer
as the width of these
lines, themselves an
inheritance of something
I am only now
beginning to understand,
like an insurrection
that no one saw,
not even those
in it, not even the man
with his hand on the trigger
or the people ready to rise.

Copyright © 2016 by Dean Rader. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 14, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Dean Rader. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 14, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Dean Rader

Dean Rader

Dean Rader is the author of Self-Portrait as a Wikipedia Entry (Copper Canyon Press, 2017) and Landscape Portrait Figure Form (Omnidawn Chapbook Series, 2014). He teaches at the University of San Francisco and lives in San Francisco.

by this poet

poem

One day

I will drift

into darkness

and know it

perhaps

the way a son

recognizes a mother

after he has returned

from many years

of travel

understanding

the new distance

is neither

beginning nor

end

only stillness
 

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