By Julie Cadwallader Staub

What sound do the vertebrae make
in the back of a neck when they give way?
do they snap and splinter like a wishbone?
do they quietly collapse, crush the windpipe beneath?

What happens to the uniformed knee
when it lifts up, straightens from a body gone limp?
will it haunt its master with the memory of that final shove
when one human life changed from struggle to gone?

We know the sound that vertebrae make
the sound of a throat collapsing
we’ve heard it again and again:
I can’t breathe

and we know what happens to the knee that bends
that pushes until it kills
we’ve heard it again and again:

But what happens if the sound
of vertebrae broken in a Black man’s neck
reverberates across a nation
ignites again that deep, long simmering fire

born of centuries of outrage and mourning
for Eric and Michael and Sandra and Ahmaud and
for Emmett and Trayvon and Breonna and Martin and
Malcolm and Medgar and Addie Mae and Cynthia and Carol and Carole?

Will our nation’s backbone
— engineered to uphold white male supremacy —
be broken, dismantled

transformed vertebra by vertebra
to stand
and to stand up
for justice?

The Potomac Review published Listen and Sisters in their spring 2021 issue.

© 2021 Julie Cadwallader Staub. All Rights Reserved.
Website Design by Pete Berg.