Poem: Len Bias, a Bouquet of Flowers, and Ms. Brooks

Len Bias dropped buckets in Frederick Douglass’s home state, where I was raised. And it’s startling to find that one night, instead of softly putting that orange globe in the bucket, he was handing flowers to Ms. Gwendolyn Brooks, who was doing a reading at the University of Maryland. Bias stopped by for a second with flowers — Collier reminds us of it all, with this Golden Shovel, borrowing his end words from “she kisses her killed boy,” a line in Brooks’s “The Last Quatrain of a Ballad for Emmett Till,” reminding us that while “it is difficult to get the news from poems …” Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts

By Michael Collier

He arrives in the middle of her reading. She
has to stop and, taking the flowers he’s brought, kisses
the beautiful young man whose yellow socks are her
dowdy sweater’s antithesis. What’s said between them is killed
by applause, but not his smile, which is the smile of a boy
standing in the silence he’s created, and
not her magnified stare, which says she
understands why he’s arrived late, is
already leaving, and that he is sorry.

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He created the Million Book Project, an initiative to curate microlibraries and install them in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, ‘‘Felon,’’ explores the post-incarceration experience. In 2019, he won a National Magazine Award in Essays and Criticism for his article in The Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to aspiring lawyer. Michael Collier’s latest collection of poetry is the forthcoming ‘‘The Missing Mountain’’ (University of Chicago Press, 2021).

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