Monday, August 31, 2015

Returning, yet again, to Reginald Harris's "The Lost Boys"

"There were 45 people killed in Baltimore during July 2015, the most in one month since August 1972,"  reports The Baltimore Sun. "Most came from historically impoverished neighborhoods, and all but one of the victims were males, all but two of them black." 

Thinking about the numbers of the primarily young black men killed in Baltimore and in St. Louis, where I live, takes me back, yet again, to Reginald Harris's poem "The Lost Boys: A Requiem." Harris references a range of black boys and young men who left. One killed in a hit and run. Another from suicide. Some from AIDS. Some locked up. Others from crack.   
I've read hundreds of poems over the last decade. Harris's "The Lost Boys," however, is rare in its treatment of so many deaths and disappearances in a one short piece. There are many tributes to a single individual. But few give you that glimpse of the large scale like Harris.

In the closing stanza, Harris writes:
Joe, not dead, only resting
Nathan, not lost, just gone
Troy, not gone, just not here
As I read an article about family members reflecting on the lost of their loved ones, Harris's poem came to mind, as I noticed that words like "gone" and "not here" appeared in their statements as well. In fact, one mother decides to invoke words without actually saying them in order to shield the feelings of her child:
"She doesn't even know that [her father is] G-O-N-E," Stokes says, spelling out the word as her 3-year-old — one of two children they had together — babbles in the background at her home. "She doesn't know what's going on. She doesn't know that he was K-I-L-L-E-D."
"The Lost Boys" references more than 30 boys and men who were killed, are gone, disappeared, or left. Even if few poets decide to produce poems like Harris's, the communities will catalog similar lists lost black boys and men.  

Drawing Connections, Reading Reginald Harris's "The Lost Boys"
A Notebook on Reginald Harris

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