Poem to My Son as Darth Vader

You kazoo your Imperial March in the backseat,
your cheeks flushed with force. No, don’t be him,
I say. He’s the big baddie. When you see the police lights

spinning on the side of the road,
you ask what the police do, ask me if bad guys
are real. No, I insist. Just people

who do bad things. I’m driving to work where I have
to teach a black autistic boy what to do if a policeman
asks him a question. Son, your face is so white

when you ask about the police, but by the next breath
you’re on to werewolves, zombies, ghosts—a naive terror,
gleeful, safe as a child draped under a sheet on Halloween.

I’m driving to work where I’ll try to help the boy
suspended from school for writing everybody dies
on the classroom calendar. His parents hide all the knives

& barricade their bedroom door each night.
On the radio they’re discussing the synagogue
shooting again. They play a clip of the president

saying we don’t need gun laws, just armed guards
in every temple. You can’t be timely
when writing a poem with guns in it. Already

we’ve had a dozen more shootings,
& I’m driving to work where I’ll try
to help a boy whose dad leaves a loaded gun

on the kitchen counter. The boy grabs his teacher
by the hair to pull her in for a bite. He bangs his head
against his iPad & digs his teeth into his skin.

Everyone has a reason they act bad, I say. They just need
our help
. When you crack my rage open with your story
of the boy who shoved you down on the playground,

I teach you, Don’t push back. Go tell your teacher, but
I remember the teacher’s son who wrecked his body
against mine, kissing my eyes, my cheek, & my belly

with his fists. A mama’s boy, I held my hands to my side
& didn’t hit back once. The teacher yanked him off of me
& sent us both to detention. Jesus said, Whosoever shall smite

thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. I’m driving
to work where I’ll try to help the boy who builds a wall
from colorful cardboard blocks, peers down a putt-putt club

like it’s a sniper rifle, & picks off imaginary immigrants.
This is the president’s wall, he tells me. We have to keep
the bad guys out
. You know the rules, son:

No hitting. No fighting. No playing with guns. No,
I’m not holding in a crooked grin when I find you guarding
our house, a tree branch cocked in your grip. You shoot

a stare straight into my eyes & defend yourself:
It’s not a gun. In space the storm troopers
shoot each other with beams of light. On TV

the politicians say that if we take the guns away,
the bad guys will just use a bomb, a knife, a poison instead.
You’re pointing your stick straight at my chest. My hands

are up in the air. You ask me again before bed.
Are bad guys real? I want to tell you that people
are good; it’s this world we’re making

that’s bad. I have a mouth full
of easy answers. Too soon now
you’ll have to take off that mask

& breathe this impossible air.

Brandon Thurman is the author of the chapbook Strange Flesh (Quarterly West, 2018). His poetry can be found in the Adroit Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nashville Review, RHINO, and others. He lives in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas with his husband and son. You can find him on Twitter @bthurman87.