When I was a teen I stole T-
shirts much too small for my body.
I klept movies, kept fountain
pens deep in my pockets,
glossy magazines, pills, cologne,
hair gel, lotions, pristinely
folded kerchiefs. O the thieving
magpie perches in blue and black
and white and takes what it wants
without the penalties of man.
I do my dim mathematics: I am
sixteen and caught twice. My feathers
are cleaned in this human suit
through community service and fees,
a nest of bureaucracy cradling.
Ten thousand dollars in damage
and the white boy pays his fines
and continues. He goes on.
A trinket does not warrant death.
No one should die over the shine
of pennies. Snatched packaging
is not a reason for slaughter.
It’s the same sentence again
and again and still it’s not enough.
Steal a bag of chips. Make it Skittles.
Make it a Popsicle and read me
the riddle on the stick: ‘How many Black
bodies does it take to _______________?’
O who will be the accountant and sort
through the dead that fill this silence?
Who will answer?
Who will be accountable?
I was a bad, brutal teenager,
and like most, I grew out of it—
birthed with the concession
of “it was just a phase.”
If you think petty theft justifies
murder then stop,
and start the poem over. When I
was a teen I never stole cigars,
but if I did I would have been fine-
d, picked trash, remained.
I would not have to fold,
wings out in a gesture of surrender.
The humiliation would be procedural
and brief. They would have pulled me
aside for a nice talk. There would have
been no margin of error; could you
even imagine the surprise on my pink
face as six bullets burst to enter?
JD SCOTT is a poet living in Tuscaloosa, AL. His publications include Night Errands (YellowJacket Press, 2012) and FUNERALS & THRONES (Birds of Lace, 2013).