The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Mary Makofske

No Angels


                  “…out of such chaos, not to find answers, but to capture the way history feels,

                   how  it maims, bewilders, enmeshes us.”—Zachary Lazar, in a New York Times

                   review of A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James


                  Michael Brown was “no angel.”      John Eligon, New York Times


                  “My husband and I thought, ‘How did he get to be a police officer?’” Sandra

                   Lee Finney, former neighbor of Darren Wilson, quoted in the New York Times



No angel hovers over the scene draped in yellow tape

where Mike Brown lay for hours in his own blood.


No angel hovers over Darren Wilson

staring at the dashboard of the squad car

wondering if the blood on his hands

belongs to him or the man he shot.


Some believe there was once an angel

who chafed at authority, who burned

to re-make humans in his image,

to lead them out of innocence.


There were no angels on the streets of Ferguson,

none in the homes, none with assault guns,

none sheathed in armor, in great metal beetles,

none behind helmets with black faceguards,

none flinging rocks or shattering windows,

none with their hands raised, none

behind cameras whirring to catch it all,

none watching it on their screens


Sometimes history zooms in

like a heat-seeking missile

drawn to the smallest spark.


Villagers with burning torches,

armored tanks, police with assault guns

all searching for the monster

shocked again to life:

the burly black man

the white cop.


That young man, his intimidating body

bearing all its labels—teen, thief, hoodlum,

rapper, victim, nigger, son, friend, cousin, bully,

lost soul, explosion waiting to happen,

walked ambled sauntered strutted swaggered stalked

down the middle of Canfield Drive

flaunting the rules, holding in plain sight

stolen cigarillos. Daring someone

to say “Stop!”


That young man, bearing all his labels—

peace officer, lover, ordinary guy,

cop, pig, honky, bully, cracker, racist,

explosion waiting to happen,

armed and uniformed, cruising lurking

in his marked car, coming back from a call

to help a sick baby, soft-pedaling

his order, “Why don’t you guys walk

on the sidewalk?” expecting

whenever he ordered someone, “Stop!”

that someone would stop.


Here’s another version:

Wilson—“Get the fuck on the sidewalk.”

Brown—“The fuck with what you have to say.”

Wilson slamming the Tahoe in reverse,

cutting across their path, so close

they had to step back.

“Stop or I’ll shoot.”

“You’re too pussy to shoot me.”


I’m only a viewer, an ear to the ground.

Even eyewitnesses can’t agree.

One witness cannot testify.



Wolves know by instinct what to do:

how when the fight gets nasty,

one turns on his back, exposes

his throat and belly

to ask for mercy the dominant

wolf will grant.


The question for men becomes

who is dominant.



Big Mike’s uncle Bernard Ewing

gave his nephew some advice:

“If the police ever get on you,

I don’t care what you doing,

give it up. Because if you do

one wrong move, they’ll shoot

you. They’ll kill you.”


If you run, you look like prey.

If you attack, you’re a predator.



Go back to a June night, 1 a.m.

when Mike calls his parents to say

he’s seen in thunderclouds an angel

chased by Satan and running for shelter

toward the face of God. Of course

they think he’s joking, though his voice

is shaky. He emails them a photo

to prove what he saw and vows,

“Now I believe.”


At his funeral, his stepmother says

months ago, when she was ill,

Mike told her, “I’ve been dreaming of death. . . .

I’ve been dreaming of bloody sheets.”


After his high school graduation, 

“He was talking about God," she said.

"And he said, 'Someday the world

is going to know my name.'"



The cursing construction worker Mike spoke with

on his way to the Ferguson Market

said, "[Brown] told me that the Lord Jesus Christ

would help me with my anger problem."


“Almost to our destination,” says Dorian Johnson

walking with Mike down the middle of the street

with their stolen $48.99 Swisher Sweets cigarillos.

Almost to their destination—

where is that?

Where is Mike Brown headed

with Satan, an angel, and God in his head?



“If I could buy 30 seconds of time,

someone else will be here,

we can make the arrest,

nothing happens, we are all good.”


“The pistol came out of my holster.”

Like a live creature, out of its den.

“And the man turned it toward me. 

In the struggle, the gun went off.”


I did not fire. The gun went off.



So much can happen in 90 seconds.

Slow down. Slow down.

“It’s not my job to sit and wait,”

said Darren Wilson, who swears,

though he worked in a “hostile environment,”

that day he felt no anger,

only fear. No anger. No hate.


In the car, in the struggle,

a shot was fired, a shot

exploding the pane

that lay between them.

The pain that lies between us.



The crowds want answers.

Time passing could be so much

to consider. Could be stalling.


One grand juror says, "My concern

is that everybody is saying

'hurry up, hurry up, hurry up….'

Hurry up, make a decision, hurry up

and get this done, hurry up

and get that done.’"


They are taking their time.

As if volumes of testimony

proved deliberation.



Prosecutor Robert P. McColloch: 

“The duty of the grand jury

is to separate fact from fiction.”


(Fact: McColloch’s police officer father

was murdered by a black man.

McColloch would not recuse himself.)


If Wilson “reasonably believed”

he or others were endangered,

he was within his rights to fire.

“Reasonably believed”—

neither fact, nor fiction.



So many witnesses, some

easily dismissed because from where

they stood they couldn’t possibly see

around corners


although they could

see the past with stunning clarity

and even foretell the future:


choke hold, handcuffed body

careening inside a police van,

bullets in a back, 12 year old boy

shot dead as he played in a park.


Each, in one sense, the same

old story, strands of the same thread,

but each woven into a separate pattern

distinct as a fingerprint.



Forensics show Brown’s DNA

in the car, on Wilson’s clothes, the gun.

Soot on Brown’s hand proves

he was shot while trying to get the gun.


Soot on Brown’s hand proves

he was trying to deflect the gun.



We’re trying to separate fact

from fiction.


Soot on the flesh indicates

close range. Soot indicates

a shot was fired.



They called him Big Mike. Bodyguard.

Though Mike’s friend Brandon said he’d never

seen Mike throw a punch, “He’ll swell up like,

‘I’m mad’ and you’ll back off.”


Wilson: “He was almost bulking up

to run through the shots,

like it was making him mad


that I was shooting at him…. 

And the face that he had

was looking straight through me,

like I wasn’t even there, like I wasn’t

even anything in his way.”


Brown’s face was “like a demon.”

He charged. The last shot,

through the top of the head,

proves that. Head down, bent over.

(Or did he stagger?).

Bent with pain, two shots through the lungs.

Collapsing, falling.


Was he bulking up to scare the devil off,

to scare death off, looking right through

Darren Wilson to the face of God?



All Darren wanted was to lead

a normal life. A house. Barbeque

in the backyard. A woman to love.

Good salary, good pension.

All he wanted was to fill out

that uniform, to get respect,

to bring some peace

in world not often peaceful.

“Darren is a very easy-going individual,”

his sergeant said, ”always has a smile

on his face, doesn’t go trying to start

trouble or to look for trouble,

does a good job.”



Wilson thought, “If I could buy

30 seconds of time….”


30 seconds of time— what does it cost?



It happened so fast.

Brown was “swinging wildly,”

punching Wilson’s face.

His gun came out of the holster.

The gun came out.

When, exactly, did the gun come out?



Did, or did not, Wilson know

about the theft at Ferguson Market?

His sergeant claims he said he didn’t.

In testimony, Wilson claims he did.


Why did Wilson back up his car

to stop Brown and Johnson?

To confront two jaywalkers?

A petty thief?

A guy who cursed him?

Which is the capital offense?



Could a police officer who had seen

his mother jailed for forgery and fraud

after she’d conned a friend and neighbor,

a man whose mother died

when he was in high school, a man

with three stepfathers, one who became

a guardian but not a father,

a man who saw police and courts

occupy and extort a neighborhood

come equipped not only with Tahoe,

police radio, mace, baton,

Sig Sauer .40 caliber automatic,

but also his own past?



Over now, the career he wanted.

Interviewed on TV, Wilson

looks stiff and well-rehearsed.

He would have done nothing

different. He had “no options….

I did my job right….

My training took over….”

He’s doesn’t say so yet, but

he’s going to resign, drop

out of sight. As he was out

of sight in Jennings, on a troubled

police force, a man one lieutenant

called an “average officer.”


Why didn’t Wilson file an incident report?



Back at the station, Wilson washes

blood from his hands, scrubs his cuticles.

Maybe he doesn’t think of it

as evidence. He wants clean hands.

He’s thinking “bio-hazard.”



“When you are physically attacked

unprovoked,” said Darren’s sergeant,

“I believe how he could prevent this

is a stupid question.”


Unprovoked—neither fact nor fiction.

One witness cannot testify.


Is how he could prevent this

a stupid question?



In the face of perceived danger, tunnel vision,

you act “to neutralize the threat.”


As anyone might, rushing through that tunnel

in spite of the piercing whistle, the blinding light.


As Darren Wilson might. As Mike Brown might.



no time      no place

for better angels

of our nature


profanities were hurled


fists and a gun

a gun and fists


two wills, two worlds


there was a struggle




MARY MAKOFSKE's books are World Enough, and Time (Kelsay, 2017); Traction (Ashland, 2011), winner of the Richard Snyder Award judged by David Wojahn; Eating Nasturtiums (2008) winner of a Flume Press chapbook award; and The Disappearance of Gargoyles (Thorntree, 1998). She received the 2017 International Poetry Prize (judged by Cecilia Woloch) from Atlanta Review, and her work has appeared recently in Poetry East, Southern Poetry Review, Antiphon, Briar Cliff Review, Stone Canoe, and Slant as well as in eighteen anthologies.



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