by Heather Swan
We have to consciously study how to be tender with each other until it becomes a habit…
The pistols glinted in the moonlight
pouring through the trees by the bike path
as two men robbed my son and his friend.
One gun pressed into his friend’s temple
as he lay face-down on the ground;
the other pointed at my son’s chest. He obeyed:
slipped off his backpack, emptied
his pockets, handed the taller man his chapstick
and his phone, which, minutes before,
had sent the message, On my way, to me.
He knelt down and turned his back when asked,
as one might before uttering a prayer,
the universal gesture of supplication.
In the grass, damp with dew, he prepared
for the closing of night, the silencing
of tree frogs, but the gunshot never
arrived. Instead the men ordered them
to run away, and so they ran, hearts glad
to be pounding louder than their footsteps
like bass drums at some celebratory parade,
all the way home. Later, telling the story,
he says he imagined as he ran the desperation
of those men—Not much older than me!—
that pushed them into a life like that.
Like a rabbit looking up at the hawk
and not seeing talon or beak,
but the soft underside of the wing.