On July 6, 2016, thirty-two-year-old Philando Castile was pulled over by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, in a car with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her four-year-old daughter. After being asked for his license and proof of insurance, Castile told the officer that he had a firearm. He was told, “Don’t pull it out,” and even though he insisted that he would not, Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot him seven times. The shooting and Castile’s death were live-streamed on Facebook by Diamond Reynolds.
The Road Runner is a beeping charmer, blue-feather pompadoured,
hooked to his lusty habit of turning the Coyote into blooming
asterisk and spectacular dust. It’s believed that he has no soul.
The Coyote, bewildered and bulge-eyed, dies and dies and dies
in a bloodless loop. His bones, ludicrously close to the sky,
lance his nappy pelt and leave him deflated, as flat as the earth
he tramples. Or he hurtles forehead first into sudden walls
conjured by his turbo-footed rival, seems incredulous
as his own skull splinters and falls to his feet. Or, sucked into
a paint-by-numbers tornado, he is speedily disemboweled,
and thanks to a rapid-fire array of boulders, anvils, catapults
and cannons, which betray him after the bird’s sonic-boom
getaway, the Coyote’s spine habitually launches itself through
the top of his head. And Lord, there he goes again. He falls.
He’s the undisputed master of the drop, descend, plummet
and plunge, the dive, tumble, the topple—from mountains, from
needle-topped cliffs, from the kind of heights that can simply not
exist without religion. He falls and smashes into the canyon floor
with such force that his body smokes shut. And we fools think
what we have always thought— Surely such a cascade has folded
his needy soul into the earth again. Surely he’s joined the ancestors.
But through it all, the Coyote’s fat heart is a such a treacherous
engine. Road Runner meeps gleefully, draws in a breath, and before
that breath is released, the killed Coyote is whole, crazy ravenous
for fowl again. He doesn’t seem to have learned his loud lesson.
He doesn’t care that he’s been killed so much, so many thousands
of times, killed like a black boy on a weekday. He doesn’t care
how many times he’s been axed, blown open, set ablaze, needled
with plump cartoon bullets. All that matters is that his skin is not
broken. All that matters is that his bulged eyes never really close.
Little kids talk about dead people as if they just lay down
for a nap or went to the corner bodega. They’ll be back. Just
give them some cool water, a peanut butter and jelly, aspirin,
maybe some magic. They’ll come back. Look at that wolf thing.
He falls off a whole mountain and he comes back. That mouse
keeps on killing that cat Tom, just keeps killing and killing him,
and he comes back. Elmer Fudd shoots Daffy Duck right in his
head, twists his mouth all the way ’round, but that duck’s all right.
At age four, children begin to grasp the idea that death is final.
Dae’Anna Reynolds is the daughter of Diamond Reynolds,
who is the girlfriend of Philando Castile, who is dead, far
beyond the reach of aspirin or magic. Dae’Anna is four
years old. But Dae’Anna grew up fast, fed by the iron stench
of mama’s boyfriend’s blood soaking into the dim upholstery
of a ’97 Olds, she grew up when she heard her mother swear
and snot-weep while narrating a murder, that day she grew
wobbling hips and dark lipstick, she all-of-a-sudden knew
wassup with whiskey, she knew nightmare wider than sleep.
He gon’ stand up soon, Mama, right? Dae’Anna was handed
more history than she could hold, the Not coming back, sorry!
of recaptured slaves beaten of their nouns, men as wind-
scarred foliage, wizards who somehow suicide themselves
in the backseats of squad cars with both left and right hands
cuffed behind their backs. Just sing him a funny song, Mama,
he’ll wake up. But Dae’Anna is beginning to see that belief
in those Warner Brothers resurrections is a fool’s errand, no use
waiting for Philando to nail his finale in this sweltering car
while Mama swirls in her sweat and screeches fuck fuck fuck
and Remember that wolf, though, he fell real far, remember?
And he was all right. But baby girl has locked eyes with another
wolf, silver starred and grit, “That’s the one who did it!” Mama
screams. But that duck’s mouth got shot off, Mama. The child
slapped grown by gory ritual, baptized by a scarlet gush from
somebody’s daddy Stand up, Lando! or somebody’s boyfriend
or somebody’s brother or somebody’s mama or Blood ain’t real,
Mama. It’s just color. Or somebody’s baby boy or baby girl, or
second cousin, or somebody’s auntie— Stop playin’, Lando! You
scaring Mama! Dae’Anna, this time there will be no getting up,
no standing, no more Philando. But Mama, remember that cat?
He name Tom, right? Get up, Lando! Lando is dead. He not dead.
Dae’Anna, there is no magic. Imma talk to God, Mama. He’s gone.
People don’t be gone, Mama, not like that. On the TV . . . But he
DEAD But Mama, he DEAD Get up Lando, you scarin’ me too!
Still strapped in her carseat, bathed in the heat of fresh kill, baby
girl stops summoning hoodoo, forgoes fable, stops saying But they
always wake up, behind her eyes there’s that clichéd sorrow, that
providence, and it streams through her body and bends it. With
eyes fixed on the new bottom floor of her life she says her
first words as a woman: Okay, Mama, okay, he dead. Now please
stop cussing and screaming. I don’t want you to get shooted.