if i were ta-nehisi coates
January 22, 2017
i've walked by mata hari
February 4, 2017

My office is an ode to antiquity, a
museum of former sinner-saints: archives of fire-eyed caesars
in their bespoke three-piece ambitions. dead, and mostly forgotten.
grinless statues, gilded frames dropped above fireplaces, foggy photographs.

it’s always been difficult to look at them—
when the wall fell, when black men voted, when
gay men blessed the worlds with “i do” and
women gave birth—or not. they scowled, bitter in progress.

but their features are fading in the sunlight, i’m consoled;
dusk often rings its orange tocsin rays before six.
they will not be around much longer.

still, to save face, i usher my gaze out of fourth-story windows,
to the banners whipping democracy in winds that ever change on steps
the fringe forgotten dare not crawl.
now they wield words like weapons; they shout:
“you betrayed us” and strike up chants: “our government is against us.”
some fire up a melee chorus: “we voted you in, we will get you out.”

there was one, yesterday, who took his words too far—
an african-american man, a professor of ethics, a father of citizens
who climbed the marble and fought past statues of
silver and gildings of gold. marched past tapestries and laws signed
by coercion; ran through the dens of politics.

he was going to say something. that’s all.

i was sitting at my desk when i heard him implore: “mr. governor, mr. governor?”
not: “you usurping bastard,” not “you coward.” not even a statement. it was a question, a plea:
“mr. governor?”

they had him executed in front of my door—two shots to the back. intruder.
his blood stained the white sheen on the door panels, on the pearly white gate to the wise
and necessary governor. we can’t wash it out. and i still have tinnitus from the gunfire.

how do you open a door stained with blood and think on democracy?
but i do, because it is what i owe them: to redeem it. to figure out what it means.
and to force myself to lead, i turn to the last counsel this office has:
a ratty King James, one that sat on bowed shelves for the better parts of mens’ years.
it belonged to my predecessor, the one who blessed the massacre of indians at the creek.
it still stinks of whiskey.

i turn to the only page i ever read:
Matthew 27:24. “Pilate took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying,
‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.'”

Somehow, in broken Jerusalem, they shouted back:
“His blood be on us and on our children!”

from where i sit, blood stains are the least of that man’s worries.
at least Pilate could wash blood off of stone;
my office is made of wood.

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