Bad News, Again

by Cameron Awkward-Rich

after the June 2015 Charleston AME church shooting
after Mary Oliver

There are so many reasons
to stay inside, to lock the room
around my heart. I don’t even like it.
My heart. Bitter little fruit.
Little lead stone, carnation
blooming from a Sunday dress.
What does the world mean
if you can’t trust it to go on?

Listen: birdsong (whippoorwill
maybe) broken by the wail
of a woman prowling barefoot
down the street.

Sometimes, before light breaks
I lace my shoes & race outside.
I try to touch everything—
my neighbor’s rusty wind
chime, the fallen trees. My soles
drum the concrete, hands strum
each metal fence.

Listen: hasn’t my body felt
like the body of smoke
before?

One morning, on the corner
a girl, still in plaits, crowned
with butterflies, a field that sang
with every motion of her head.
Where was her mother
at this hour? I don’t know.

But she looked at me
like a child. She spun
her head. She laughed
& laughed at my awful music
& I thought Oh. Yes.
This is the world
with me in it. It is
beautiful. It is.

from Dispatch. Copyright © 2019 by Cameron Awkward-Rich. Used by permission of Persea Books, Inc (New York), www.perseabooks.com.  All rights reserved.

Writing Prompt: 
As I have written about elsewhere, “Bad News, Again” is a rewriting of a poem Mary Oliver that I both love and chafe against. I love Mary Oliver’s poem, “October,” because it feels like it speaks with (a version of) my voice; I chafe against it because of the racialized limits of the poem’s imagination. I wrote “Bad News, Again” as a kind of experiment, to see if I could turn “October” against itself, to redirect its existing architecture toward the flourishing of the people I call mine.

So, the prompt: conduct this experiment for yourself. Find a text (a poem, an essay, a song, the pledge of allegiance, etc) that you have an ambivalent relationship to, that both seems to speak for you and against you at the same time. Using the structure of that text, try to rewrite it so that it does something else: sustains you, considers you, exposes its own contradictions, becomes a love song for your friends…


Cameron Awkward-Rich

Cameron Awkward-Rich is the author of two collections of poetry—Dispatch (Persea Books, 2019) and Sympathetic Little Monster (Ricochet Editions, 2016)—and an assistant professor of women, gender, sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. Find him at www.cawkwardrich.com.