Journalism In Verse

Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr. and Family

Four-Cent Father

in Identity by

Officers respond to a noise complaint
            black man playing music
Officers report
            in his own garage
“Black male, dreads, armed with a handgun”
            armed with dreads
who opened up
            black male dreads
then closed the door
            black dread armed
Officer leveled his weapon
            dread armed with a handgun
at the man behind the door
            “Shots fired, shots fired!”
Bullets splintered wood

Officers reported he had a gun
            found unloaded
in his hand
            in his back pocket
pointed at them
            with no trace of blood or tissue
he must have put it away
            before or after the shots
            to his gut
            and his groin
            and his head?

Jury responds to a wrongful death suit
            We can’t reach a verdict
Judge responds to jury
            Keep trying
Jury responds to judge
            who asks for clarification
“If we find minimal negligence…”
            I don’t understand
“…can the courts overrule…”
            Please clarify
“…monetary amounts …”
            Please clarify
“…presented by the jury?”
            Please clarify

Poet responds to a four-cent award
Please clarify
Please clarify how
Please clarify how a life is worth four cents

The jury finds
            one dollar to the mother
            for the funeral
upon preponderance of the evidence
            one dollar to each child
            for pain and suffering
            and loss of parental companionship
victim was under the influence
            no line on the worksheet
            for the fianceé
and to the question of negligence
            99% his own fault
            1% due to police
four dollars become four cents

Poet responds to the void
Drinking at home while black is expensive
            Please clarify
Listening to music at home while black is expensive
            Please clarify how
A stranger’s itchy 9-1-1 finger while black is expensive
            Please clarify how a life
If his taxes hadn’t paid for the bullets
            Please clarify how a life is worth
they’d probably charge his mother a fee
            Please clarify how a life is worth four cents

One more question, your honor:
            Did the nine-year-old girl
            who saw bullets rip into
            her father’s garage
            get justice?


Dedicated to Gregory Vaughn Hill, Jr.


Leonard Pitts: Does a black life matter? Yes, it’s worth about four cents, Florida jury decides [Miami Herald]
Jury leaves $4 to family of man killed by sheriff’s deputy, along with many questions [The New York Times]

Tara Campbell is a fiction editor at Barrelhouse and an MFA candidate at American University. Prior publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, b(OINK), Booth, Spelk, Jellyfish Review, Strange Horizons, and Poets Reading the News. Her debut novel, TreeVolution, was published in 2016, and her collection, Circe’s Bicycle, was released spring 2018.

Photo of Gregory Vaughn Hill, Jr. and Monique Davis with their daughters, courtesy of the family.

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