from Nandi Comer, American Family: A Syndrome
How can I trust they won’t treat him like a corpse?
I have watched the ballet of brutality
break the bodies of strangers.
I have seen the limp drag of a bird’s bulleted wing.
Comer’s poem answers the question asked by the poem’s title. Readers already know the answer and understand the anguish of having to provide the answer once again. In the searing image of this excerpt, a sister desperately tries to calm and connect with a brother whose “brain refuses to get ahold of itself.” The poem asks a more horrifying question. “How can I trust they won’t treat him like a corpse?” The simile suggests her brother is already dead, like something to be removed and buried, not living or sentient. But then the poet also disembodies the cops. The pronoun presents the police as a “they”: abstract, distant, not individualized. The poems leaves the police unseen, unrealized, and without bodies. The question is painful both in suggesting how the brother will be treated, but also in the way the speaker questions herself: “How can I trust . . .?” If the speaker cannot hope, rely, expect, believe—trust—hasn’t her humanity been stolen?
The poem continues only to stop the reader again by comparing brutality, by implication police brutality, to ballet, the formal dance invented to entertain the aristocracy and ruling class, a dance filled with tradition, and associated with grace, refinement, and frail women in fluffy pink tutus. Although ballet extols the body (at least certain bodies), the ballet of brutality breaks bodies. Who watches this dread ballet? Are they entertained? Or since they do nothing to stop the brutality—are they corpses?
Nandi Comer, American Family: A Syndrome, Finishing Line Press, 2018