Reginald Dwayne Betts

Mural for the Heart

Tonight, is not for my woman, who would touch me
before we speak; not when the weight of the accumulation
of our yesterdays hang like the last dusk before us—
each memory another haunting thing. Not when buried
somewhere behind us is all that the past, that we,
will not let die, history our prophecy & albatross, the myth
we measure tomorrow against. Every story worth telling
has a thousand beginnings. Let me tell you this one:
There was this one night on a road trip. She, my wife, was not
there. Already rehearsing my absence, practicing the dance
of raising children alone. Distance our disaster. & so, if I say
the trouble began when the car stalled, I would be lying. But
the car did stall, every light inside flashed as if
the emergency was something breaking inside of she & I,
& not just an empty tank. Everyone wants a chance
to be a hero, & so, when I climbed out the truck’s front seat,
already I had measured the distance from truck to gas station.
A thousand feet. I once lifted my woman & carried her
on my back from where we stood to the bed that I would turn
into what’s remains when lies become shrapnel. Have you seen
a man push his body against a thing as if love alone
would move it? That night there were three of us riding. My
woman was not there. Two of us climbed out, rolled up sleeves,
began pushing. Muscles strained against the darkness, the heft
of the truck lurching, at best. When the scrawny kid joined,
his body lost inside his coat, we thought ourselves blessed.
A tampon run, he said, explaining why he was there on this
street so late at night, his girlfriend on the side of the road
& my woman five hundred miles away, as if to say
part of love is pretending to be a hero for strangers. The truck
barely moved, the way love barely moves, when weighed
down by memories. Before long there were four pushing,
the thousand feet still a thousand feet. & then
we stopped, which is to say we realized: the thing you want
can break you. We all knew that in time our legs would shake,
that our bodies would betray us & admit that the heart,
though not useless, lacks the thing needed for some miracles.
& yet, against this truth, I keep praying my woman,
who is no more mine than any woman can belong to a man,
but her own, constellation of music & desire, as is anyone,
will forgive history, knowing a thousand angels stand beside,
exhausted too, though certain the heft of their wings will bring
a gale fierce enough to lift this hurt that we refuse to name.


Reginald Dwayne Betts is the author of two books of poems, Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015), and Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books, 2010) and a memoir A Question of Freedom (Avery/Penguin, 2009). He is the winner of a Radcliffe Fellowship, an NAACP Image Award, a Soros Justice Fellowship from the Open Society Institute, a Cave Canem Fellowship, and a Ruth Lilley and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. In 2012, Betts was appointed by President Barak Obama to the Coordinating Council of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Prevention. He is currently enrolled in the PhD program at Yale Law School. To read more by this author: Reginald Dwayne Betts: Wartime Issue