Poem-a-Day - "Custody" by Luisa A. Igloria

March 19, 2021 


Luisa A. Igloria

Chopping cilantro and flat leaf parsley
on a bamboo board at the sink, mincing

garlic and onions. Late mellowing light,
the air bordering on cool but tinged

bitter-green with the smell of growing
amargoso in the yard. I can keep

the kitchen door open because the side gate
is locked, and the week-long siege at the street

corner is over. We did not know the man
they say trespassed, early Monday morning,

into someones yard with a firearm;
did not know what altercation if any

led to someone calling the police. So he ran
and barricaded himself in his own house.

They came in force, then; rifles drawn,
sealed off one end of the block. Those of us

who could still come and go out the other end
brought back reports every day, over four

days: how many squad cars, where the waiting
ambulance was parked, the bomb unit; who saw

the robot deployed with a phone, the negotiators,
the TV crew. We did not witness how, before dawn

on the fourth day, finally they took him into custody
from the Latin custodia meaning guardianship,

keeping, care. Now this man who neighbors say
used to pelt their doors with donuts, or attach

stuffed animals on leashes for walks,
is in a hospital or facility. Is it wrong  

to wonder if it lasted as long as it did
instead of arriving at swifter resolution—

doors broken in; tasers, clubs; bullets sprayed
into his body—because of the color of his skin?

Or is it possible to believe that finally
something of change might be moving slowly

through the dismal atmosphere, tempering
and holding in check, allowing the thought

to stay the trigger, the heart to register
its trembling before letting the weapon fly?

In summer, because dark descends more slowly,
its hard to scan the sky for the hunter

and his belt studded with the three telltale
bright stars; harder to remember how

once, he boasted he would hunt down and kill
all of earths wild animals, to make it safe.

But there he is, adrift in the inky darkness,
club and shield eternally raised, his own K-9 units

at his heels; and here we are, still trying to sort
villain from victim, wound from welcome opening.

Copyright © 2021 by Luisa A. Igloria. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 19, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

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"A few years ago, there was heightened police activity at one end of a residential area near the university where I teach. When I wrote this poem, I was thinking of how, often, there’s such a thin line between danger and ‘the ordinary.’ Especially for bodies of color, it’s difficult and even terrifying to move around in a world where they can’t be sure who or what they can trust. I also thought about the word custody itself, and how its meanings casually shift from the idea of protection or care, to that of legal restraint and imprisonment. And perhaps because it was summer then, we’d take evening walks and look at the sky, squinting to find the constellations. It seemed to me that Orion, that great hunter in mythology armed with a bronze club and always accompanied by his dogs, belonged in this poem.”
Luisa A. Igloria
Luisa A. Igloria is the author of Maps for Migrants and Ghosts (Southern Illinois University Press, 2020) and the inaugural recipient of the 2015 Resurgence Poetry Prize for ecopoetry. She is a Louis I. Jaffe Professor of English and Creative Writing in the MFA Program at Old Dominion University. In July 2020, she was appointed Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Maps for Migrants and Ghosts
(Southern Illinois University Press, 2020)

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Thanks to Sasha Pimentel, author of For Want of Water (Beacon Press, 2017), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read a Q&A about Pimentel’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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