Trying to Explain America to My In-Laws | Keri Withington

Image: Specphotops

Yes, Florida’s also in the South.
Yes, we’ve been there.
Yes, we’re planning to go there again,
maybe this summer;
no, we didn’t know anyone in that school,
but yes, we all know someone in that school.

Yes, the kids are safe…well, not really safe.
I talked to M this morning about what to do:
whether to wait in the first fire alarm,
how to listen in hallways,
where to hide if she needed to.

Then I sent her to school
with her cello
and packed lunch
as if this were normal.

As if I should be talking to her about survival,
instead of test scores and school dances.
As if any of us know what 6th grade is like
when you’re worried about making it home alive.
Yes, I say, I realize this is not normal. Yes is to say,
I know the rest of the world doesn’t understand,
and neither do we. No, I say, it won’t make anything change.
It won’t end America’s love affair with guns
because we’ve seen that we’ll let children die over and
over again and that’s what it means.

I stop and think and almost finish.
We’ll let children die before we run background checks.
We’ll let children die before we stop automatic
and armor-piercing and the hard-on for the NRA.

But I realize all those are just conditionals
to the central fact, and the fact of the matter is
America let’s its children die.

We’ve been letting them die.

I remember Columbine;
I remember Sandy Hook.
I remember all the stories in between
and all the schools since.

Yes, I say, America.


Keri Withington (she/her) is an educator, vegan, and pandemic gardener. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Wild Word and Blue Fifth Review. She has published two chapbooks: Constellations of Freckles (Dancing Girl Press) and Beckoning from the Waves (Plan B Press). Withington lives with her husband, three children, and four fur babies in the Appalachian foothills. You can find her in Zoom classes for Pellissippi State, trying to turn her yard into an orchard, or on FB (@KeriWithingtonWriter).

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