They Died of a Broken Heart: Kalief & Venida Browder

in Obituaries by

Kalief Browder (1993-2015) & Venida Browder (1953-2016)

She died of a broken heart.

Departed: the life-giver to

one twenty-two-
year-old, one air
conditioning cord.

Three years in hell
alive burning, one

island: Rikers. Never

stood for trial, never
stole a backpack can’t

erase 300 days solitary
confinement, can’t take

back beatings, can’t regain
the mind. Hope: no one’s to
find. “Ma, I can’t take it any
more,” multiple reaches for
suicide. One day successful

at dying. Now, a mother gone
to visit, stay awhile above the
rotting: pain, persistence, lies.

One son who wanted freedom,
easy adolescence, trouble-less,
gets pegged by another human

lacking color OR IS IT CHARACTER.
Disappear: future. Exit: Mr. Kalief
Browder, we barely knew you &
what a shame to dig your grave

so early, and now Mom too. We
grieve you truly we do but bones
grow cold & we don’t know how
you ached alone. A want for out,

for education but depression &
systemic racism & a country
broken-in battered senseless

by its own division its own
self-loathing, I am so sorry

I am so sorry we failed you
this country the governing
backbone belligerent body

it ate you it swallowed &
spit & we can’t sing your

praises just choke on
your name the saliva
spews spit-foam there

isn’t enough room not
in prison nor in heaven
but on earth a space for
you, for the sound of it:

mourning. Morning
mourning. Morning
mourning. Morning

no justice,
no peace,

just this

the news
the dying


no place great
enough for the
ashes, for the
echo of your
voices, don’t
forgive us–
just forget.

Read More:
“Kalief Browder’s Mother Laid to Rest In New York” [The Root]
“Kalief Browder hanged himself after jail destroyed him. Then ‘a broken heart’ killed his mother.” [The Washington Post]
“Kalief Browder, 1993-2015” [The New Yorker]
“Before the Law” [The New Yorker]

Luna G. Reiley is the Culture Critic for Poets Reading The News. She writes across hybrid non-fictive forms. Her work has been showcased by the DeYoung Museum and staged at Artists Television Access in addition to performances at St. Paul’s Church and Alder Manor. She is an MFA Writing candidate focusing on poetry at California College of the Arts in Oakland.