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Poetry: "Bulletproof"


Shanela Ranaraja

I’m watching the stove, so I text my best friend,

the front door is open.

He texts back, assuming I walk into the right house,

because it's the first time he’s visited since I moved,

and I nearly type, lol don’t get shot, and then I remember

Black people are being shot in America,

being shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time

or the right place at the right time,

being wrong, being right, anywhere, anytime,

just being.

America is burning, smoke bombs and teargas,

and my best friend’s head is haloed by fluffy black curls,

and I switch off the stove and sit by the unlocked door until

he knocks rings the doorbell texts me knocks again,

because he’s remembered too.

I pull him inside and bolt the door before he can even hug me,

say amaseganalehu to anyone out there still listening.

Over dinner he tells me of moving house by hand,

mattresses carried for miles on curly heads,

says while spooning lentils onto his plate

a white man came towards us out of the woods

and I was sure we were going to die.

I say I’m going to put the kettle on

and stand in the kitchen clutching the Lipton,


He leaves three minutes before curfew,

carrying the boxes of food that I put in his hands,

not knowing whether carrying them will save or damn him,

and I watch him out of sight up the middle of the street -

because the middle’s safer than whatever’s in the margins -

and then I hold my phone and pace,

thinking please God be safe,

thinking bullets don’t stop just because you pray,

thinking what do I tell your mother -

and then the phone chimes in my hand and he’s safe and I sag

over the sink of dirty dishes and I think

of the generation that lived before me,

through the JVP raids and the LTTE horror -

of the generation that lived before him,

through the famine years and the Red Terror -

of the generation that learned to tell their children

pack a bag with the essentials

sell our wedding gold for safe passage,

which led to our generation, running for oceans

from curfews and checkpoints and the vague memory

of buses burning on 8PM TV,

and now I am in the promised land,

crying in my rented kitchen

because I didn’t know if my best friend would live or die

walking home from dinner.

Amaseganalehu - thank you (Amharic)

JVP - Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, Communist movement in Sri Lanka that led violent uprisings against the government in 1971 and 1987.

LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - Terrorist organization involved in Sri Lankan civil war, 1976-2009.

Red Terror - Period of violent repression carried out in Ethiopia 1977-78 under dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, later convicted of genocide.


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