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New Yorker staff writer and Columbia journalism professor Jelani Cobb is referring to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed "25-year-old former high school football standout" who died after a white father and son team spotted him on a jog, decided he looked like "the suspect in a rash of nearby break-ins," grabbed their guns, jumped into their truck, confronted him, and then shot him, according to the police report reviewed by the New York Times. Here's the video of the slaying.

The two white men, Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, were neither charged nor arrested. The original prosecutor on the case "had advised the police that there was insufficient probable cause to arrest Mr. Arbery’s pursuers, arguing that they had acted legally under the state’s citizen arrest and self-defense statutes." That prosecutor eventually recused himself because his own son worked with the elder McMichael during McMichael's "long career as an investigator in the Brunswick district attorney’s office." McMichael was also a cop for several years in the local police department.

Today, the new prosecutor recommended the case go before a grand jury. Once juries can be empaneled again in Georgia, we'll see if the jury brings an indictment.

Roger Reeves, an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois-Chicago and an accomplished runner himself, prefigured this incident in a poem probably over a decade ago. The poem is called "Cross Country," and, if I'm remembering correctly, he wrote it after some asshole hurled the n-word at him while he was on a run somewhere in Texas. You can read it in the literary journal Blackbird. You can also find it in Reeves's book, King Me, available at local bookstores. You can also hear him read it on Vimeo:

A few notes:

• Reeves can be a painterly poet, and this is one of his more painterly poems. It's dense with images that do different kinds of work. Some of the images carry the poem's central arguments, some of them set the scene, and some of them do both. For the sake of conversation, I'll risk oversimplifying the poem with my layman's explication.

• At the beginning of the poem the speaker, who's a black man, is running along a road "through a city that is running out of water." He's got death and racism on the mind, partly because the world is about to enter its death phase again, and partly because he's a black man anywhere in America, which means he's unsafe.

• In the opening 10 lines, he gives us a dense image of the early morning sky full of yellow birds. This image sets the scene, but it also kicks off an imagistic narrative that will pay off at the end of the poem. Though people normally associate yellow morning birds with happiness, the speaker associates them with death and the daily killings of "good animals" and gods, which makes me think that the "blond bodies thrashing about above him" are metaphors for white people, or whiteness in general.

• The speaker then brings us down to earth, where "the making and unmaking" of his body takes place. I take this as a reference to white supremacy's mutilation of black people and black identities, the way whiteness transforms a black man on his jog into a "suspect in a rash of nearby break-ins" who deserves to be hunted down with guns.

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• The speaker then gets yelled at, which causes him to ask the gods of heaven and earth what the hell he has to do to get a little respect around here. Seems like everywhere he goes—no matter which way the "pair of wild boars, slain and laid tusk to tail" point—someone is calling him the n-word.

• The middle of the poem presents a gorgeous if bleak argument using anaphora, or the repetition of a single word at the beginning of a sentence. In the list of images, the speaker argues that racist violence is the only language America speaks. It permeates everything—nature, good experiences, bad experiences, love—and it does so across time and space, "in the war and in between the wars." It's present even when the speaker tries to run away from it. There is no escape from the forces that daily make and unmake his body. And he doubts he can escape, when, after all, “even the lions have left for the mountains.”

• At the end Reeves concludes the narrative of his bird imagery in a way I find difficult to parse, but I'll give it a try. The yellow birds have become red birds, their golden exteriors washed away by rain to reveal, possibly, their red, violent inner selves. Natural order has suspended, with "a puddle that refuses to reflect the moon." And Cher is on the radio in the attic of an abandoned house, still "believing in love after love or life after love." Given the popular saying, "If there's a nuclear war, only two species will survive: the cockroaches and Cher," I'm guessing this post-apocalyptic scene serves as a metaphor for how little hope there is of ever eradicating the scourge of racism from America. If there's a nuclear war, only cockroaches, Cher, and racism will survive.

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