Rite of Passage by Steven Cockerham



There is always something to be made of pain,
you remind yourself as you dry your eyes.

The riverbed of your tear ducts
ran dry last night
and clarity soon followed.
Luminescence ripped across the sky
and as sure as daybreak
you knew your fate.

The calming effect of certainty
is not one you’ve known often,
so you relish it.
Crush the remnants of your aspirations
and mix it with your morning coffee in preparation.
Dressing for the day, you take note of your body;
animated cadaver of a boy,
soul seems illegitimate.
Reminiscent of the strange fruit
Billie Holiday would croon about.

Such strong disregard held
for the blessed inner workings of your flesh and bone.
Generations of blood pump through your heart.
Your mere existence a tribute to your ancestry.
Centuries of triumph and tragedy
encased in your ribcage.
Not unlike the bars of penitentiaries
that hunger for black bodies
and devour a man for slinging dime bags
to feed his six kids.

Don’t bother with the reasoning though.
No amount of misfortune
can excuse your predicament.
Your trauma is their nostalgia;
a memory lane littered with forgotten limbs.
So to them Emmett Till looks like nothing more
than a boy with bright eyes
and good manners;
forgetting everything that the carnage is symbolic of.

It’s all irrelevant to you now.
You know your place.
Stepping out into streets of warfare,
every day could be your last.
Still you know
you were meant to reveal this injustice.
You place your body in the path
of oncoming destiny.
This body with a heart that beats
for nameless victims face down on the concrete;
a neck that holds your head high with pride
unafraid in the presence of rope, cord, or cable.
A body with wrists that fear no manacle;
you go willingly

Ready to play a game with dust and darkness.
Tracing your family line into the soil
you know your roots run deep,
down into graves.
Here you stand,
closer to the grave than you’ve ever been.
The sun has tracked your moves and
traced your footsteps
from dawn till dusk
in order to stand witness
before its light leaves this world
for a night;
before your light leaves this world

Your final hours chronicled
in crumpled newsprint at your feet.
Your faults caricatured
and your humanity left questionable.
You know what it takes to expose them.
Let them spill you upon the pavement.
Reflect their barbaric behavior,
with your own destruction.
Show them what this body can do.
And when it comes time to lay down your life
you do not bite the bullet,
you swallow it whole
and let your insides
do the rest.


A recent graduate with his Masters in Social Work, Steven Cockerham is a reemerging poet. He returns to the craft with renewed vigor & enthusiasm. Between writing sessions, he also binge watches Netflix originals, collects peculiar phrases, & studies tarot.




Back to Issue 1 of the Fresh Ink Anthology