Rais Bhuiyan Song

A man who embarked on a shooting spree in what he claimed was retaliation for 9/11 has been executed at a prison in Texas. The lone survivor of Mark Stroman’s attack on convenience store workers in late 2001, Rais Bhuiyan, originally from Bangladesh, unsuccessfully sued to stop the execution …
………………………………………………………….The Guardian, July 21, 2011

Rais Bhuiyan, what is mercy?
You tried to stop
the state from
killing the racist meth head
who shot you in the face,
while I’m still mad
at women who left ages ago,
at friends who don’t call,
even at John H.
who killed himself last year.
Why, Rais Bhuiyan, did he do that,
and why am I rattled
by things that have
so little to do with me?
Can mercy release me
from the dread that grew
out of that grade six
“trust game,” when the kids,
my friends, let me fall
between their fingers?
Don’t you, like me, stumble
through such brambles
and barbs each night, bloodied,
into the woods of sleep?
I tried to worship the streets
of Tai Po, Hong Kong—
where Tiina and I lived
when I found your story
—the mahjong tables, the towers, the lovers,
then after ten minutes
of limping feral cats
and cruel fathers
I caught myself scratching curses
on a public toilet, like Raskolnikov.
Rais Bhuiyan, I’m bad
at mercy. Is it like sitting
in the back of a taxi
and the driver’s in a great mood,
singing in Cantonese,
catching every light?
My heart is like my favorite
old shirt: filthier each day
and will not get clean.
Is mercy a gate you squeeze past
by smearing your body
in shit? Is mercy an amnesiac?
Ill will o’erflows the tub.
Surely an opposite faction
gathers in a forest,
ones like you
performing the maenad’s
empathetic dance,
a lay-down-your-guns dance
for the rest of us.
Rais Bhuiyan, shall I just repeat
the irrational list of kindnesses
my lovely mother
used to speak
while touching my small back,
till the ill-will-shaped animals bow
in the fields of birth—
just as Mark Stroman,
he who shotgunned you,
bowed his head
after his lethal injection?

John Wall Barger

John Wall Barger

John Wall Barger is the author of four books of poetry, including The Mean Game (Palimpsest Press, 2019). His poems and critical writing have appeared in American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review (online), The Hopkins Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Rattle, The Cincinnati Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Best of the Best Canadian Poetry. His poem, “Smog Mother,” was co-winner of The Malahat Review’s 2017 Long Poem Prize. He lives in Philadelphia, where he teaches Creative Writing at The University of the Arts. johnwallbarger.com
John Wall Barger

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Author: John Wall Barger

John Wall Barger is the author of four books of poetry, including The Mean Game (Palimpsest Press, 2019). His poems and critical writing have appeared in American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review (online), The Hopkins Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Rattle, The Cincinnati Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Best of the Best Canadian Poetry. His poem, “Smog Mother,” was co-winner of The Malahat Review’s 2017 Long Poem Prize. He lives in Philadelphia, where he teaches Creative Writing at The University of the Arts. johnwallbarger.com