Bullet Points —Jericho Brown

Bullet Points Jericho Brown image of Brown speaking

I will not shoot myself
In the head, and I will not shoot myself
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do,
I promise you, I will not do it
In a police car while handcuffed
Or in the jail cell of a town
I only know the name of
Because I have to drive through it
To get home. Yes, I may be at risk,
But I promise you, I trust the maggots
Who live beneath the floorboards
Of my house to do what they must
To any carcass more than I trust
An officer of the law of the land
To shut my eyes like a man
Of God might, or to cover me with a sheet
So clean my mother could have used it
To tuck me in. When I kill me, I will
Do it the same way most Americans do,
I promise you: cigarette smoke
Or a piece of meat on which I choke
Or so broke I freeze
In one of these winters we keep
Calling worst. I promise if you hear
Of me dead anywhere near
A cop, then that cop killed me. He took
Me from us and left my body, which is,
No matter what we’ve been taught,
Greater than the settlement
A city can pay a mother to stop crying,
And more beautiful than the new bullet
Fished from the folds of my brain.

Bullet Points Jericho Brown Reflections and Prompts

Bullet Points Jericho Brown Writing prompts, flowers peeking up through dead leaves

The repetitions in this poem reflect the repetition of history. Again and again, black men, women, and children are killed by the police. How does the poem both use repetition and work against it? What are some of the words and structures that are repeated most? For example, how many times does the poem use the word “kill,” “I,” “promise”? What else is repeated?

*One of my favorite lines in the poem is “He took me from us and left my body” What does it mean to take “me” from us? What are your favorite lines?

*This poem is from Brown’s book The Tradition, in which he also writes about his experience contracting and living with AIDS. Various forms of threat run throughout the book. How does this information change the way we read the poem?

*This poem is both a lyric poem (a poem out of the speaker’s own private experiences) and a social poem (a poem that expresses a larger shared experience and that is a call for change). How does your own engagement with poetry interact with the greater public, social, and political world?

* Write a poem that imagines your own death and that celebrates your life. “Bullet Points” is just one of numerous famous poems in which poets imagine their own death—and/or celebrate escaping death. 

Some other poems in this tradition are Cesar Vallejo’s “Black Stone on White Stone,” W. S. Merwin’s “Anniversary of My Death,” Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Would Not Stop For Death,” and Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me.”

As always, I recommend meditating before writing. Try one of my meditation recordings for writers before you write.

If you want to go farther, I’d love to see you in some of my upcoming mindful writing courses. 

And then please leave a comment and/or some of your writing from the prompts! I love to hear from you!

And please share this with friends.


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