Christopher Henry Smith

Independent Arts Administrator

Come on in.  Click around.  Stay awhile.

Black and White and Read All Over: On the June 29th Shooting Outside Bezazian Library in Chicago

“They’re shooting at our books, now?”
I thought, hearing of last night’s Uptown shooting,
And of course, felt horror,
Holy indignation,
For the teenager hit out front—
But also.
I thought of the books.

The real tragedy, OBVIOUSLY, here, today,
Is this young man and his hurting loved ones,
And, DEFINITELY, the greater issues of
Violence and crime at play.

Do we know if any books were shot?

After, no doubt No Doubt NO DOUBT,
ONLY after,
We’ve consoled the crying mother on the front steps,
And watched the mayor’s brave statement on the news,
And reopened sidewalks so neighborhood kids can
Poke through grass, divining for dropped casings
Missed by cops rushing to get to the next shooting.
Then, when we’re CERTAIN our people have been
Cared for
And held
And sent
THEN, can someone PLEASE
Check out the books?

I see the victims stacked naked
Side by side, a shared aperture
Opening from one, into the next,
Into the next, into the next;
An invisible column, goring
One tome after another
In perfect, alphabetical order.
I fear if we let this continue,
If we don’t fight the ‪#literocide‬‬,
Future generations might see us out of context,
Finding our stories with literal holes in them.

Imagine their confusion at:
Ho Keeping
Madame Ovary
Wut Heights
Mo Dick

You’re right.

In most cases, they will understand just fine
What was being said,
What was going on,
Despite the pinprick on each page.

Odds are, it will be the small words—
Our articles, prepositions,
The odd interjection—
That are lost.
Aliens or archaeologists will still
Recognize the terrain,
Map the essentials,
Feeling no sadness for the
Loss of lesser words
On pages with so many.

I’m mad for small words.
I want to hold them together
And make poems that start:
“And yet and yet and yet as we but go…”
And finish:
“…for so for so for so it does not unto us;”
Let them know they have value,
That they’re loved,
How we’d be lost without them;
And remind people that this,
This little word here, this
Was someword’s antecedent,
Someword’s object,
Someword’s grammatical relation.
Someword wouldn’t have
Case or context, if not for
The fallen small word.

Soon, our books will start:
“April Clocks Thirteen”
“Mother Died”
And our favored, protected bits
Will be all we have left.

They can keep shooting volumes unchecked,
And we’ll watch dull, mustachioed detectives
Filch slugs from the latter halves of reference books,
Finally slowed between “Napoleon” and “Narnia,”
And not makes signs or lose sleep,
Until they strike any of our big words—
Our heroes,
Favorite quotes,
Heaven forbid the pictures.

God, I hope they shoot Emma,
Mortally wound Jon Snow,
Bury Beowulf.
And people rally in chains
Around our branches—neighborhood and main—
Stand guard in the summer night,
Keeping safe our most precious things,
Reminded that whether the bullet
Hits the big words or the small ones,
The black or the white on the page,
We all lose a part of our story.

Chicago, IL

Powered by Squarespace. Background photos by Chris Smith.