Poetry

Jericho Brown – Bullet Points

I will not shoot myself 
In the head, and I will not shoot myself 
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do,
I promise you, I will not do it 
In a police car while handcuffed…”

– Jericho Brown


Jericho Brown’s collection The Tradition won him the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 and was chosen by the Free Library of Philadelphia for their annual citywide reading program. This powerful poem, Bullet Points, talks to the weight carried by black Americans who live under the constant threat of police violence and injustice. Click here to listen to the poet read this poem.


Bullet Points

I will not shoot myself 
In the head, and I will not shoot myself 
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do,
I promise you, I will not do it 
In a police car while handcuffed
Or in the jail cell of a town 
I only know the name of
Because I have to drive through it
To get home. Yes, I may be at risk,
But I promise you, I trust the maggots
Who live beneath the floorboards
Of my house to do what they must
To any carcass more than I trust 
An officer of the law of the land
To shut my eyes like a man 
Of God might, or to cover me with a sheet 
So clean my mother could have used it
To tuck me in. When I kill me, I will 
Do it the same way most Americans do,
I promise you: cigarette smoke 
Or a piece of meat on which I choke
Or so broke I freeze 
In one of these winters we keep
Calling worst. I promise if you hear
Of me dead anywhere near 
A cop, then that cop killed me. He took 
Me from us and left my body, which is,
No matter what we’ve been taught,
Greater than the settlement 
A city can pay a mother to stop crying, 
And more beautiful than the new bullet
Fished from the folds of my brain.

Jericho Brown
From The Tradition. Used with permission from Copper Canyon Press. 2021.


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