Before the riot
You have dinner at your friend’s backyard.
You lie flat on the ground and touch soles. Faces remain ten feet apart.
They give you a surgical mask.
You do the trick with the square of toilet paper to keep your glasses from fogging up.
The air is tense, insurrected.
Riding down to Oscar Grant Plaza, you don’t put on headphones and audiobook as usual. You want to hear its roar.
No one knows when it’ll start, that’s the point.
Sometimes you march for hours
the landscape becomes surreal, the city transfigured,
and it starts at random once even the cops have given up on anything happening.
Other times it’s over by the time you get there
Whispering coals extinguished on the intersection.
At 14th, a stream of people and gas washes both sidewalks towards you.
Civilians and protesters alike: everyone masked. Insurrected.
Then it turns the corner and comes to you.
You can’t see its end. Cheer for it.
The city unravels with each step it takes.
You resisted watching the video for days
Until this morning when you sensed
George Floyd can’t breathe
Says so. Says it again. And again. And again. “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.”
Tries to dig through concrete to
carve a corner for the airways
By then it had already been the first time a precinct was insurrected. You watched, stunned, the flames.
The whirlwind makes breathing possible.
History is being insurrected and you are going to join it
It turns a corner and takes you in its fold.
Walgreens cracks first.
Boarded up windows but no use.
Plywood, insurrected, now shields the crowd from cops. Artists tag it in purple and black.
Kids run in and out of stores and disappear in the night.
Chase lit. Starbucks lit. Another Starbucks lit. Post office
Firecrackers shoo choppers.
Flying glass keeps cops at bay.
You want exclamation marks
And raw joy like your early twenties
But also to balance with solemnity
And tragedy and righteous anger
And a collected, polished tone
And you want not to be indulgent
And not to put someone you love at risk
Insurrected you feel less jaded.
It has many heads
One still there at the start, the receiving end
Another taking the highway
And us here swallowing everything in our path.
Starbucks furniture lit,
torched at intersections, blocks away.
Luxury complexes smashed.
You feel like a co-conspirator for simply watching.
“To Target!” Someone says and others repeat.
14th, Telegraph, 26th, Target, CVS, Mercedes dealership, insurrected. It moves faster than texts.
All mask, civilians and insurrectionaries both, though
at this point, in a blue view insurrected,
what’s the difference?
Medicine out on the pavement. Pots and pans, TP, hardware.
The taste of riot beer.
“Okay, the cops are not around,” someone tells her friend, excited, insurrected. “Do I do it? Do I do it?” Beelines to the target. You smile when she runs out insurrected with a bottle of soda raised high like a trophy.
“I got stuff for the kids, I got stuff for the house…” another, insurrected, holding a box of kitchenware.
The screen between having and not: insurrected.
In their rage, people open a door to a secret world. Others stumble into it. You’ve sought it, you’ve glimpsed it before. You don’t want to name it, but when you’re there you can say it because you’re there and you’re free.
The Honda dealership makes it feel like revolution. An SUV is insurrected. Maneuvers out through the windows. Drifts off to the horizon in a cloud of glass.
The cops push in and people run. It whirlwinds in several directions.
You bike and disappear, a civilian impersonator, still masked, insurrected.
You are being insurrected. Absorbed by it, moving within, you’re a civilian but it took you and you don’t feel the pain and fear and despair of yesterday.
The poem is insurrected. It can’t hold at once the solemnity and rage and joy and the jaded and the wit and the analysis and the journalism and the selflessness. But it’s still there and it’s free.
Dedicated to Erik Salgado, killed by police in East Oakland. Rest in power.