Don’t put your hands in your pockets.
Don’t wear your hoodie.
Don’t pull your pants down.
Don’t pull your underwear up.
Don’t swagger. Don’t skip. Don’t sway.
Don’t lean. Don’t leer. Baby don’t run.
Don’t look down or up or sideways.
Don’t make a fist. Don’t fold your arms.
Don’t say no, don’t say yes. Don’t say anything dumb.
Don’t shrug, don’t question. Don’t say something smart.
Stay out of that store; stay out of that block,
that mall, that street, that corner. Stay out of this neighborhood.
Stay out of the hallway, the stairwell, the yard, the gym, the park, the woods.
Stay off the balcony, the boardwalk, the beach. Stay off the lawn.
Don’t talk back. Don’t be defiant. Don’t get mad, don’t laugh, don’t cry.
Don’t act like you don’t know what’s going on. Don’t act like you know everything.
Don’t smirk, don’t smile, don’t grin, don’t get angry, don’t get frustrated.
Don’t relax, don’t wait, don’t hurry, don’t slow down, don’t speed up.
Don’t wear red, don’t wear blue, don’t wear any tattoos.
Don’t wear a bandanna, a durag, a t shirt, a pair of jeans,
Don’t stand by her, by him by them, by us, by that alley,
by that building, by that school, by my yard,
Don’t play your music loud; don’t play music loud in the car.
Don’t wear a cap. Don’t put a comb in your hair, don’t whistle,
Don’t hum. Don’t snap your fingers. Don’t chew gum. Don’t
sit on the stoop. Don’t sit on the porch, on the floor, on the curb. Don’t
clap your hands, don’t sing, don’t dance, don’t rap, don’t ska, don’t
fidget, don’t flail.
Don’t reach. Don’t reach for the glove box,
the back seat, the floorboard, the console, the gearshift. You might have a gun.
Don’t act like you’re afraid. Don’t act like
you’re gangsta. Don’t act proud. Don’t be a chump.
Don’t be a hero, don’t stick up
for yourself. Don’t get pushed around.
Anita Zachary writes poetry and prose and considers her work mostly hybrid. She is a recent graduate of San Diego State University’s highly regarded MFA program, with a specialty in fiction. She has translated poetry for the online version of Poetry International. She is a mother of four.
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