Joseph Harris

To My Four-Year-Old Son Zion


Zion, my son
When encountering police 
Try not to hold anything shaped like a weapon
So slip out of your skin boy
Shed that melanin like so many scales
Let it slide off your shoulders like your life depended on it
While pushing it past your waist, try a little shuck and jive
‘cause no one ever got killed for cooning
Big! Bright! till your gums swell to bursting,
Like they’ve been beaten with nightsticks
Let ‘em see your teeth
Maybe their whiteness will protect you better than begging 

But above all else remember
not to hold anything shaped like a weapon
So lay down your dignity 
Let it settle on the ground like lifeless limbs
Like mothers grief, like it’s just been choked out by the NYPD
Let it lay there dying, sitting in the sun, rotting like misplaced faith
While witnesses gather, maybe you could dance,
It serves the dual purpose of showing you are unarmed and happy

But first, make sure you’re not holding a weapon
So leave your pride at home, 
Sit it on the shelf next to your next of kin
Scrub all your online photos, 
Only take pictures of you holding: 
diplomas and kittens and sunshine and stuffed animals,
Don’t you dare grimace
Boy you better grin like rigor mortis has set in 

PANTS?? Hell no your can’t wear pants!
Don’t you know pants have pockets and pockets hold dangerous things like:
cameras, phones, gum, numbers to lawyers
Zion, haven’t you been listening?!
Boy you better put on something a little less threatening like:
    A casket, a funeral suit, a toe tag


Put on something that fits:
like prison jumpsuits,
like stereotypes 
like bullet wounds, 
like billy clubs, 

Something they can recognize like

like “he was coming right for me”,
like “he fit the description”
LIKE “he was reaching for my gun”
Remember anything dangerous you did in the last week 
can and will be used against you..
So make sure you don’t: breath, walk , exist…
As a matter of fact if you were so kind you’d kill yourself and save them the trouble 

They got better things to do
Don’t you know they got comedians to grieve and coffee to sip
Don’t you know they got lawns to mow?
Don’t you know game is on?
Zion, don’t you know?

They think…

you deserve this?

Joseph Harris has been writing & performing poetry for over 10 years. Ann Arbor was his first poetry venue and from there he has spread his particular type of logic far and wide. He has been published in MingleWood, Off the Mic, A2 Brute’and Anthrax is Safer than Poetry. He was on the Ann Arbor Slam Team from 2003-2007. He was the Rustbelt Individual Slam champion in 2005, He was the National Head to Head Haiku Deathmatch Champion in 2006. In 2007 He founded the Spitfire Poetry Slam in East Lansing, Mi. In 2008 he was part of Scott Woods national 24 hour poetry reading. In 2010 he hosted the Midwest regional Rustbelt Poetry Slam. He is currently a 5th year Ph.D. student in the Teacher Education Department at Michigan State University where he teaches among other subjects “Reading, Writing & Teaching Poetry”.
Last but not least he is the father to 3 wonderful children and was husband to a beautiful wife all of whom provide him with endless inspiration… whether they like it or not.