Jen Stein, one of the poets I’ll be reading with this Thursday in Pittsburgh, recently alerted me to the existence of the Lament for the Dead project. Editor Carey Wallace describes the project this way:
Lament for the Dead is an online community poetry project which will mark the death of every person killed by police this summer, and every police officer who loses life in the line of duty, with a poem.The first lie that hate tells us is that any other person is not as human as we are.
This project resists that lie by recognizing each other’s humanity, even in the most difficult places.
I felt compelled to participate, and received my poem assignment yesterday morning: a 57 year-old man named William Dale Jeffries from Watson, WV who ultimately died because he urinated near a business while he was walking home drunk. Click here for the news story.
It’s difficult to write a poem about someone you know very little about, but whose death you are inexplicably very emotional about. I found myself fixated on the idea of control: the impression of powerlessness he likely got from growing up in foster care, the dog he would tie up outside the bar while he drank, the immediate need to urinate, the officer who wanted to control the situation.
This was a powerful experience for me. If you’d like to participate, you can contact Carey Wallace. You receive a date or two to be “on call,” then you receive an assignment one of the mornings, and have to have the poem back by midnight that night. It’s published the next day. They need several hundred poets to assist with the project.
You can find my poem for William Dale Jeffries here. Rest in peace, Mr. Jeffries.