Len Bias dropped ribbons in Frederick Douglass’s home state, where I had been raised. And it’s startling to discover that one night, instead of softly putting that orange globe from the bucket, he was handing flowers to Ms. Gwendolyn Brooks, who was doing a reading at the University of Maryland. Bias stopped by for a second with blossoms — Collier reminds us of it all, with this Golden Shovel, borrowing his conclusion words from “she kisses her killed boy,” a line in Brooks’s “The Last Quatrain of a Ballad for Emmett Till,” reminding us that while “ it is difficult to get the news from poems…” Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts
Len Bias, a Bouquet of Flowers, and Ms. Brooks
By Michael Collier
He arrives in the middle of her reading. She
Must stop and, taking the flowers he’s attracted, kisses
the beautiful young man, whose yellow socks are her
dowdy sweater’s antithesis. What’s said between them is killed
by applause, but not his grin, which would be the smile of a boy
standing in the silence that he ’s born, and
not her magnified stare, which states she
understands why he’s came late, is
already leaving, and that he’s sorry.
Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He created the Million Book Project, an initiative to curate micro libraries and install them in prisons across the nation. His most recent collection of poetry, Felon, explores the post-incarceration experience. In 2019, he won a National Magazine Award in Essays and Criticism for his article in The Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to aspiring attorney. Michael Collier’s latest collection of poetry is the forthcoming ‘‘The Missing Mountain’’ (University of Chicago Press, 2021).