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Minnesota Nice

At six years old, me and mine moved cross country,

all our worldly things tight packed in a Ford Contour.

Our black and white cat mewed gently beside me

as the Texan breeze blew through open windows.

I played Gameboy as the streetlights allowed,

not knowing fully why we fled. We odysseyed

upstream, a single craft in a fleet of others, making port

at whichever motel we could sneak a pet inside.

We went by freeway for fear of being the next mess

to litter country roads—to be bound and battered

in small town south. But the north is no stranger

to country roads or making messes, just attentive

to cleaning up postmortem. We couldn’t know

how snowbanks can obfuscate

brutality, how traditions spread

from sea to shining sea, how

histories can never be left behind.


At fifteen, I watched a cop shove a child

down concrete school steps, his body flailing

between impacts. His skull battered

to fragments. Crimson rivering

down a well-ironed shirt.

The child, beaten

into my memory, was bound

and ferried away. He was made an example, to every Black

kid with the gall to ask “Why?

What did I do, officer? Get your

hands off of me, officer. You’re

hurting me, officer. I can’t breathe,

officer.” A reminder,

some traditions spread

coast to coast. A reminder

they can never be unmade.

In the north, neighbors hide

behind niceties and dial 9-1-1

if one too many negroes occupy space.

If we ask too many questions or

carry on too loudly. Here they despise

confrontation, and call well-armed

militias to lynch on their behalf.

Here, Black kids learn

to watch over shoulders.

To look for red and blue lights,

because they know our nation’s colors

are synonymous with death.

They know some traditions are old as

shipping routes, that there is no port

or corner of the country

where the same rules don’t apply.

They know a legion is eager to take them,

that their headline is already penned.

How this nation aches to break them.

How this history is never left behind.

Poem: TY CHAPMAN is a Twin Cities–based puppeteer, poet, curator, and storyteller. His upcoming works include writing a children’s book through the Loft’s Mirrors and Windows program and creating a one-man shadow puppet and marionette show for Puppet Lab.


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