‘From “Witness”’, by Phillip B. Williams

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Image by Diego Torres Silvestre. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

According to America’s Most Wanted, “Around 3:00 a.m. on February 17, 2005, New York City transit workers found two suspicious bags alongside the track at the Nostrand Avenue station in Brooklyn.” In those bags was the body parts of Rashawn Brazell. His killer was never found.

I called his name but heard my own
come back. In the fog of my breath
a prayer like wool too worn out to warm.
How long does it take a city to discover
how to separate the dead from the soon-dead?
I cut from grief a frieze. Depicted: blood river
let loose for the why? Who’d recognize me
without a head? Fear didn’t have a face
to reveal. In the sinew, a raveling
truth: Osiris yet found—no one can teach how
the rest of us will speak without our mouths.
The rest of us will speak without our mouths.
Truth: Osiris yet found—no one can teach how
to reveal. In the sinew, a raveling
without a head. Fear didn’t have a face
let loose for the
why?
Who’d recognize me?
I cut from grief a frieze. Depicted: blood river,
how to separate the dead from the soon-dead.
How long does it take a city to discover
a prayer like wool too worn out to warm?
Come back. In the fog of my breath
I called his name but heard my own.
Dear Ms. Brazell-Jones,
In an interview, I heard you say
a woman knocked on your door to condemn you
and Rashawn to hell, to preach
about gay sin after your son’s death. Before
my grandfather died he said, You cannot love a god
that you fear
. I want to but can’t apologize
for the blade of that woman’s faith, for every door
you enter but never exit.
as though to repair as though breakage as though
bone-absence required could be sutured by silver
glints brass and wrist turn a name unpuzzled
mind unpuzzles old technology flesh made artifact
unabbreviated though this evidence unevidenced found
distraction thrown out of the case of tools
as though a body gives its weight to sorrow so all
is needed for all the sorrow is it
so bad to sew shut a case with a clue
to borrow a screw here a plier there a bolt a case
needs answers needs to look deeper inside
a ruin no one can hold all of needs to
force light into where light cannot be missing
Dear Ms. Brazell-Jones,
I love my brother who wasn’t a brother of mine.
Walking in an alley alone at night I bury my hands
in my pockets to appear brotherless, bordered
by the decay blowing from the stench.
To appear brotherless is to appear beyond help,
though you quoted Rashawn saying, No one
is beyond help. Some believe only the already-
destroyed are safe. I try to appear broken in order
to appear unbreakable, not worth further breaking.


This piece first appeared in The Lifted Brow 27. Get your copy now.

Phillip B. Williams is the author of the book of poems Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books, 2016). He is a recipient of the 2013 Ruth Lilly Fellowship and is the poetry editor of the online journal Vinyl Poetry. Phillip will be the 2015-2017 Creative Writing Fellow in Poetry at Emory University.