We Outlast Empire: Cynthia Atkins

We Outlast Empire is a recurring series which aims to highlight poetry that explores the many angles of our current global and political situation. With words, we hope, we may transmute a part of ourselves—a part however small or large—that can exist without drawn borders, without violence, without injustice.


When God Is A Bullet

It begins with the middle finger

in the contingent air, the stench of cat piss

and a red stain that will never come out

of the carpets. Every plaid winter coat, a button in each

mother’s pockets. The upholstery pillaged and dark

as the shadow on a blind-fold. The sofa mourns

the body’s sullen form.   A boy bouncing a ball.

First it was a cat’s paw,

then the whole damn cat.

This is the boy bouncing the ball. This is the kid

Never invited—to a party, a club, a secret.

This is the scar of a battle lost to each

failed self. This is the red blemish

larger than the shrunken world.

This is the boy picking at flesh

in a vacant parking lot, where pain feeds on pain.

This is not a movie, that pinging sound

that won’t stop in his head is real.

This is the boy who knows no mother’s love.

Tormented at 6, 10, 16 by self-loathing laced

with Ritalin. This is the boy looking at himself

in the mirror—a stranger entering

a strange room. A jacked-up car. This is a storm

in a damaged town.   The stones pounding the windows

in his head. This is the gun. This is the other dead kid.

This is the saddest crime in an empty room.

This is the blood not laundered. No evicting a dead son

from a sofa, a bosom. This is the coat. This is the puddle

some sloshed three-chinned politician stepped over.

This is our garden of shame. We are the junkies,

roaming the internet. The is the blood, it is cinematic.

This is the blood. I am this boy. I hear hate gangling

up the flag pole in the schoolyard. Or at the Art sink where

he peed his pants. And we all laughed, yes we did.

I know this boy—the one that can’t look us in the eye.

This ache brays and feeds.   This is the weapon.   All of us dug

in this hole so deep–A mother’s plaid coat is a grave

to weep. This is the boy. We are the bullet.


The voices in We Outlast Empire refuse complicity and draw their own borders. If you would like your poem to be apart of this series, please email mina@apogeejournal.org

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