Angry Poetry Corner: 8(9) by Bao Phi

We're getting poetic up here. It's time for another installment of the Angry Poetry Corner, a semi-regular spotlight where we present the work of various poets from the AAPI community -- not necessarily angry poems (though there are certainly some of those too) -- curated by Cara, our Angry Asian Intern. Because you could use a little more poetry in your life.

In the corner this week, a poem by Bao Phi:

8 (9)
In memory of Fong Lee; and for the Lee family, and the Justice for Fong Lee committee

In 2006, Minneapolis Police Officer Jason Andersen shot and killed Fong Lee, a nineteen year old Hmong American. Andersen was awarded a Medal of Valor, though the Lee family and community members allege that Fong Lee was unarmed and the gun found on the scene was planted by police. During a foot chase in North Minneapolis, Andersen shot at Lee nine times, 1 bullet missing, the other 8 hitting Fong Lee as he ran and as he lay dying on the ground.

Community members point out that accusations about Fong Lee’s history and character, specifically allegations that he was in a gang, were allowed in court and written about in the press though there was no proof that Lee was ever involved in a gang. However, none of Officer Andersen’s history of abuse or judgments of his character was allowed in court.

One of the devil’s greatest powers
is to force you to take a deal
that he himself would never take.

Fong Lee was nineteen (gang member). I can imagine him (gang member) and his (gang member) family. They are eating (gang member) something that steams and it does not steam like food from this (gang member) country, the smell lingers (gang member) like home. It is Minnesota so (gang member) the lights inside no matter how dim somehow makes (gang member) all indoor rooms feel warm. Now its summer and he’s fishing with his (gang member) friends. They (gang member) get on bikes and their (gang member) legs drape low, (gang member), arms lazy crosses on the handlebars. Their heads lean as they debate the Vikings (gang member) and the Twins, slapping absently at the logos (gang member) on their caps and (gang member) shirts.

Officer Jason Andersen (hero) shot Hmong American teenager Fong Lee eight times (to serve and protect). A bullet wound in Fong Lee’s hand suggests the teenager may have held his hands up in surrender (decorated officer) as Officer Andersen (white) shot (Medal of Valor) him. Andersen was also charged with domestic assault (peace officer) by his girlfriend though charges were later dropped (officer of the law). Officer Andersen (police officer) was also accused of kicking (hero) an African American teenager who was on the ground in handcuffs in 2008.

An all-white jury found Officer Anderson not guilty of using excessive force.

Put a blindfold on me
tell me who you fear
and I will tell you
your skin.

I’m wondering when people will care.
If we made your story into a movie about killing dolphins, perhaps.

I’m eighteen and the brutal cold holsters my hands into the warm solace of my jacket pockets. The police officer snaps his hand to his gun. My pockets are empty. My hands open. Still. My story would have ended in smoke and red snow. If my body lay there, perforated, would I bleed through the holes in his story?

Lost, you turn the car around and see trees stretching up like green-brown fencing up to the blue skies. For a moment you think the woods stretch forever, somewhere close a bubbling stream whispers white kisses across worn rocks, a deer leans its neck down to drink, the velvet moss of a hushed secret world here in your city. But just beyond the neck of scrub trees is the hint of chain-link, the distant ghost silhouette of strip mall, just one step past the shadows of those leaves are railroad tracks running like stitches over broken glass and gravel.

Minnesota Nice: this city hides its scars so well.

All our lives, men with guns.
Chased, in the womb, in the arms
Of our parents.

Our parents
Chased, all our lives,
By men with guns.

In the womb, in our parent’s arms
We’ve run
Chased by men with guns.

Michael Cho. Cau Thi Bich Tran. John T. Williams.
Tycel Nelson. Oscar Grant. Fong Lee.
May your names be the hymn
wind that sways
police bullets to miss.
Bao Phi is a Vietnamese American spoken word artist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is a Minnesota Grand Slam champ, National Poetry Slam finalist, was on HBO's Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, and in 2006 was included in The Best American Poetry anthology. His first collection of poems, Sông I Sing, was published in 2011 by Coffee House Press to critical acclaim, and is currently in its fifth printing.

For more information on Fong Lee, visit the Justice for Fong Lee Facebook group.

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