Johanna Shapiro, PhD

We are sitting
drinking coffee, laughing
talking about our kids
The day is bright and happy
The air is crisp, the sky blue
the clouds white, the trees green
The people around us
are laughing too
glad to be
drinking coffee on such a day

Then a thud
We all look up, laughter interrupted
First we see the car
at an unnatural angle
the driver already halfway out, lamenting
Other cars are stopping too
brakes squealing with annoyance
Only later do we see the kid
scattered in the crosswalk
the skateboard upside down
wheels still spinning

The kid is Black I am not
Through my caffeinated shock,
even as I pull out my phone to call 911
I realize I am seeing this tragedy through the
cotton padding of my white privilege
as I inevitably see all the Black men
and boys and women
sprawled on a road somewhere or a sidewalk somewhere
or a park somewhere or an apartment somewhere
killed by something
more cruel, less random
than a car

Still, I dial the phone
And gather with the other white people
standing around the boy
telling him it will probably be all right
when it probably won’t be
waiting for the people who love him
to appear
waiting for the wailing and the anguish to begin



Introduction to the poem

Hello, everyone.  My name is Johanna Shapiro and, like Frank, I am an emerita professor in the UCI School of Medicine.  I am not a poet, but sometimes I write poetry, usually to process events in my or others’ lives in an effort to help me understand them more deeply.

This particular poem is based, as the title says, on a horrific skateboard vs. car collision I witnessed on PCH right before the pandemic struck.  Like many of us, I tend to see things as isolated incidents, in this case, tragic but separate from any more troubling pattern.

It was only later in revisiting this accident, probably trying to deal with my own secondary trauma, that I was reminded about how closely everything is tied together to everything else.  Writing this poem helped me find the larger picture, and the central image of the poem – an injured child splayed out in the road – spoke to me painfully about larger societal +*injustices.