You know the story before I tell it,
Black and already a hollowed pocket watch,
already thug-boned, nuisance-lipped, white-
woman-smiled. In this one, yes, the cop pulls us over,
you don’t have to ask, they were, and yes,
the car’s taillight decayed, or we ran the stop sign,
or we was too-Black-too-full magical. In this one,
my friend wears an olive sweater and smells
of someone’s daddy’s cologne masking the after-fume
of Colt 45. In this one, the city sits in the middle
of the furnace’s bare chest—it’s summer and has been
a haircut too long. The shared cup of water between us is sweating.
Where y’all heading to? the cop asks, dim flashlight caressing
the lip of the cup. To his place on 107th. He looks at me.
Was his eyes this copper-glossed in bed earlier?
Cheeks doused with good soil? You know one of your taillights is out?
(See, I told you.) Yeah, my aunt told me to get it fixed,
you might know her, Officer Cookie? In this one, friend
(can I call you that), the cop knows her—Oh yeah,
brown hair, freckles? The cop’s hand fidgets. Friend, when I die,
let it be the body’s command. Do you understand? When I die
it will be of nature’s swell script. Like how the trees undulate.
Look left, past the cop with lawngreen eyes, crow’s feet,
past the elementary school, past the halfway house
I was told was once beautiful and foolish with children,
past the viaduct, and on the main road next to the Chevron
(can you smell the gas), a girl an eyelash short of eighteen
is being held up by a cop for her taillight, leaving a party sober,
asked to “Get out the car,” and then as she reaches to unbuckle—
In that one, don’t worry, she is not shot. She makes it home,
throws her keys on the dresser, sits on the bed.
In this one, our cop hems and haws, is leaving, Be careful
crawls from the mouth. The cop drives off and he looks at me again,
eyes muddy now. Can you do me a favor, he sprinkles
as he takes my hand. Before I agree, he breathes,
Can you get out and check my taillight?
Luther Hughes is the author of A Shiver in the Leaves (BOA Editions, 2022) and the chapbook Touched (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018). His work has been published in Poetry, Paris Review, The Rumpus, New England Review, and elsewhere.