“In Charlottesville After Charlottesville” by Courtney Kampa

Courtney Kampa


Tonight they’ve hung up lights in lilts across 2nd
and Water Street on the downtown mall, a Christmas choir

singing Oh Holy Night—twenty-four people lined
against the painted brick wall, its peeling curls—the wall

Will knelt beside on one knee, face full of fear, a sidewalk of gum
and toppled ice cream, to ask if I could always call him

mine—the same wall we crouched against in August,
shielding our heads with our arms, our bags, our books,

whatever we brought along that might protect us
from the rocks and spit they threw,

their emptied tear gas canisters hurled by arms roaring
with blood, their faces doing that angry Goya thing

with the colors. My mother called hours
after Heather breathed last, called

to make sure our front door was locked;
that I remembered tomorrow was a Holy Day

of Obligation, and if I didn’t go to church it would be
a mortal sin. Her own version of danger. That time in August

flowers weren’t blooming but there was one frail rose
on our rented front yard, and we could see it

from the upstairs window, the rose, but also
the gunmetal gray Dodge, plate GVF 1111, three houses

down, abandoned and blood-caked from taking
Heather’s life and mowing over others, full throttle forward

then revved into reverse, the steel front bumper
severed, like two arms bent, palms up

and sorry. A car to take a person places, not to take
someone away, and at the window Will became more beautiful

to me, his fingers on the glass, all of them his. Now, sort of,
mine too. The driver ran into the woods to crouch

and hide out like a squirrel. We walked our dog
through those woods that morning, green

and lush, as if beauty’s sole defense
is to always just be beautiful. On that Feast of the Assumption

Charlottesville opened their eyes as if a body
punctured. Tiki torches on fire. Adult children playing

with their fathers’ guns. There is a sound a body makes
when bounced off the hood of a car

that no one should hear. Tonight snow falls
peacefully, and the choir sings Fall

on your knees, and because we have nothing else to give, we do.

from Rattle #62, Winter 2018
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Courtney Kampa: “Charlottesville is where I fell in love, both with the man I married and also with writing, as a student at UVA. Everything I am thankful to have, I owe to Charlottesville. It’s difficult to fully express. That affront to everyone’s humanity was not just evil, but deeply personal. It was in our backyard, and the backyards of those I love so utterly much. So I wrote the poem. It took five months to make sure that what I had written had done its best little attempt to get it okay. It’s still not okay, and it never will be.” (web)

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