Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A darker part of this winter

I haven't written, here or anywhere, about what happened and what's been happening in our neighborhood. It's hard. It is not a good story.

At 7:00 P.M. on New Year's Eve a young woman named Shannon Harps was stabbed to death in front of her apartment building. It was just a few blocks from where I get off the bus after work, and not far away from where I live.

The police released a sketch of someone who was alternately described as a "suspect" or a "person of interest." They have received about a hundred tips. They have not arrested anyone. They have not detained anyone.

I've heard women say that they're afraid now to walk in the dark, even early in the evening. I realize that I'm feeling that way, too.

The police have not provided much information about the progress, and no one knows why this tragedy, this violence occurred. Questions. No answers.

I was thinking about this as I was walking home tonight, and I was feeling angry that no one seemed to know anything, and then I wondered what it would be like to be a police department spokesperson, and to have to stand in front of a community and say, over and over again if necessary, that you had no new information at this time. I thought about what that person might say if he or she could say anything. I did what I do. I wrote this poem.

I hope it's okay.


What the Policeman Would Say

We wanted to tell you we understood,
that our own natures had changed,
the scarves of safety unraveling.

We wanted to say that we understood
the new taste of fear in your mouths,
the thousand shuttered eyes
hiding behind the bushes,
waiting fingers wrapped around the knife's grip.

We wanted to tell you we
heard her screams
when we walked after dark,
imagined the blood beneath her
a pillow, a sad bed. We, too,
now jumped at the rustle
only to find an old piece of paper,
an abandoned plastic bag
shuttled by the wind
and we started to breathe again,
waited for our hearts to gentle.

We wanted to tell you that we knew
it could have been our sisters,
our daughters. We, like you, have been trying
not to call them at three in the morning,
asking into the darkness
Are you there? Are you okay?
and beg them to stay inside
at all costs. We understood the costs.

We wanted to tell you what we knew.
We wanted to hand you results
and justice. Even vengeance.
But we had to stick to less than facts,
less than we knew, and that was so little.

UPDATE: Apparently, the police have someone in custody, although details are still few.


~ said...

very strong. thanks for sharing it.


Jane said...

We use the word "poetic" to describe lovely things - pleasantly memorable moments, yet for this "darker part of winter" poetry seems the perfect medium to convey the fits and gasps of harsh, chilling thoughts that accompany fear. This poem captures well what prose could only attempt.

Joannie said...

Kel & Jane: Thank you for your comments. My concern in posting it was that it wasn't appropriate somehow or that it didn't do enough to honor the victim and that was somehow diminishing her loss, her sudden absence. I'd like to write that poem, but I don't know whether I'll get to. This was the poem I got.

~ said...


I really appreciated the perspective in it. I feel the fact that it was written given your experience and the situation, honors the victim. Whenever we write a poem like this, we put ourselves "in others' shoes." It's so hard to know in real life things like this, but you are a thoughtful poet and by writing the poem, it helps keeps her memory alive.

I know about 5 years ago I wrote about those 2 little boys in B'ham that died playing by the creek when it exploded because of a gas line. I was so horrified by this, that I had to write about it. I felt the same worry. I wanted these boys to be remembered and I wanted their names known as it felt it was such a tragic loss of life.

I guess we just try our best. I think your poem is quite thoughtful and shows that we want to be safe, we want what's best, and we are all human.

Kathleen said...

Joanie, Yes, strong. I'm glad to read this poem. Thank you for sending it to me.

Joannie said...

ANOTHER UPDATE: The first person turned out not to be connected, but on Friday, the police announced that they have caught the man who murdered Shannon Harps. Apparently, it was what they call a stranger-to-stranger crime. Completely random. Utterly tragic.