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A Year After Charleston- A Predator in the Pew by Kenyatta Graves

A Predator in the Pews
“Their memory, not his.” –Shanna Smith, PhD


rides out across tissue paper—
bound pages, texts interlocked
and sewn together, joined,
like a circle where hands are held,
heads are bowed, and
eyes are closed,
a whole thing because of its parts.

Words, we are told, of god.

Behold, the thing you seek
when a strangled heart is led here.
Look at it, hold it,
search your mind;


Pray for the senator, the sexton, the singer,
the librarian, the coach,
the grandmother,
the trustee, the pastor, retired,
and the recently-degreed young man—
now, subjects for journalists with good intentions
who scour sources, call on kin,
and lurk when the grieved gather.
“Tell us about the dead so that we may know
who they were, living.”
This is respectful work, a collecting
to publish brief, poignant memories
that resuscitate lives from terror
in termination.

They are remembered multiply
and understood in last quotations,
final smiles, paraphrases
of their great, ordinary days.
Since black and murdered and murdered
because they are black is known,
the effort is universalizing,
to find shared experiences,
accomplishments, common
milestones between them,
between us.

Among the faithful are pastors and two others
who seek to be. Once, one thwarted
the robbery of her neighbor’s home.
“We’re just glad no one was hurt,”
Three graduates of Allen
and a census worker are there.
Stopped inside, a volunteer, an usher,
the runner. Stopped inside,
none of our faith,
all of our hearts,
none of our fears.


Black bodies
who coaxed prosperity
from a leery land
are imagined owned
and the rich bend
to make it so.

A couple centuries of imports
make southern states crime scenes.
From the Mississippi River to the Ohio,
east to Norfolk, Savannah,
and back to New Orleans,
port cities spread Africa
across acres of tobacco, cotton,

Languages, art, an architecture,
herbs, good medicine, the dance,
ways of worship, Orisha
all drain and drip
from the hung and far-flung
into pine soil and gator swamps.

Generations of resistance, runaways,
abolition politics rent the north.
The rich entrench
and the promise of union is broken.

Vanquished ones re-rebel
as a reconstructive appetite fades.
For another century and a half,
laws and narratives are written,
scripts that condition a culture.

And so it begins well before the camera
captures the moment of breach,
the misappropriation of unlocked,
open church doors. It begins
long before he sees blatant, cold hatred
in woven cotton fibers and thread,
the recalcitrant flag rippling
in the snap and sway of Columbia wind.

It begins because he is inspired to revenge
against those he knows only in fictive outlines,
caricatures, and powerful exaggerations.

In decades, a man readies his tools,
stalks a church, and murders nine.
And what informs his premeditation
elevates our outrage.


A Mother of Mother Emanuel brings all
she ever needs inside its walls:
her worn-leather bible, the bound end
flaking from a broken, open-flat back;
a pocketbook to keep
something for the plate,
whatever she can do;
a lap cloth for the mindless gals;
that oil, to share the anointing;
and, wrapped, sweet candies,
to hush a restless child.

Mother saw how he came in, heavy-
walking and untentative. A passenger
comes too, and she can hear it,
an ancient, evil urging
in the hiss of his breathing.

One doesn’t make eight decades
with only her first five senses.
So when eyes lock

Mother knows your name.

You are already fooled
so you might think yourself clever, first.
But the grounds are memoried.
And so when she is cut
she is not cut down.
Victory goes with her,
the right chapter,
the precise verse
(“see boy, you already forgotten”)
to see His face.


To see His face may not be
our common aspiration.
But the fight for freedom is godless
and ecumenical—a team project,
a committee assignment,
this bidding on open realty
in the purported Zion. We can touch
and agree: steel, powder, a finger
pull to the path of hatred,
makes dark allegories.

It’s a leap to standing—
long, quick wings
swoop down,
talons, teeth,
the belly panting
in the Palmetto heat.
Such savagery wants
all the innocents slaughtered.
The reload claws
take flesh, tear
muscle, maims,
finds lung sacks and makes
holes, empties air.
In the distance, heard
is the recoil and shot,
recoil and shot, fangs
pierce, pain, and poison,
for such as this happens
hidden between the rows
of high grass or bench seats.
The reload and dance
across the geometry of a web,
silk-thin and almost unseen,
from silent-sitting to sudden,
easy, near-blind entrapment.
A quick cocooning,
A puncture, and an end.

Dispatch the witness and flee to fame.


Blood still spatters at the foot of the cross.
Tissue pages, soakening, red-like, or whatever
color you see when you see body blood
distributed across these Numbers,
Acts, the testimonies of Charleston Apostles,
the last pages someone called Revelations—
nine souls blasted across a river of light,
a predator in the pews.

Kenyatta Dorey Graves
21 June 2015

Kenyatta Dorey Graves writes fiction, poetry, and critical prose. For employment, he is a K-12 education consultant, specializing in teacher training, principal coaching, curriculum construction, education policy, and supporting the classroom as the locus of change and possibility. He helps to make systems work in a systematic approach to better educating students who can thrive in classrooms committed to their future.

Kenyatta was born and raised in Hampton, Va and lives in suburban Maryland. Currently, he’s also teaching grad school education courses at universities in Washington DC.

This post first appeared on Free Black Space, please read the originial post: here

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A Year After Charleston- A Predator in the Pew by Kenyatta Graves


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