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golden shovel for 2018

by Zain Murdock

Screenshot 2023-06-21 at 18-19-21 golden shovel for 2018 & other poems.png

& yeah, I guess if I had known I would’ve run / for dear

life / it took me five years to say his real name, ________,

out loud / & weeks after it happened everyone was still telling me congratulations

on Columbia, what a great school / & I always knew / what they meant by great / once


I saw how the word stood in their teeth / fresh out / appraising    me / will you end up here again?

how the month I got in / the doctors called my leaving an if / doubt written / on


the walls the prescriptions the visual maps / of my body / & everyone’s face / & your

part in this story comes soon, I promise / my admission


a catalyst / to fantastic disorder / when you met me I was ecstatic / to be at this school to

live at this school to learn at this school to answer the phone at this school / we’re so proud / Columbia!


I bury you / my first memory of you I buried / sweet flotsam in

the Hudson / the night it happened I spilled out / & disappeared / the


night you came up to me / a warning / a clock / hemorrhaging time

I saw his side of the room & flinched / before failing to escape death in his hands / since


when did I believe I could have anything I wanted? / you

don’t know / why I     disappeared /          victims received


$165 million / from Columbia University / my mother says / for assault / everyone tells me / your

school is in the news, again           & I wonder what my grief would have been worth / how likely


in another universe / Columbia Housing would’ve assigned your roommate somewhere else / better yet / his letter

of acceptance, never written /    that semester I built these universes & crawled inside them / I,


 the obsessor, steady counting / the number of days it took this school      those hands to drown me / 28 /                    & hope,

it lives in those days I climb onto the M60 / looking madly for anything else / that


need to escape, already practiced / those Carolina nights I’d walk out to nowhere / you

never knew the escape routes I extracted from my own skin / I have


to avoid you / I see you /him/ everywhere / what a small world / where’ve you / been?

my therapist tells me I’m just / exploring


at 18 / I’m supposed to be fucking up / at 18 / at Columbia

I take that & run / & fuck / & drink / dye my hair & laugh at everything / I wade through


deeper   deeper  deeper!                                 until I’m gone / at graduation everyone says / by the

ugly bleachers / the pretty blue robes / welcome home welcome back / to Columbia,


home, a prison, plantation, whisper-network-burial-ground, Columbia blue,

the greatest, in New York  the city   greatest   great   great! / at 18 I feed / my consent into an admissions website,


my acceptance a eulogy / with a bachelor’s in elegy / to trade / &

this was meant to be a love poem / the same way my mom would have


said, oh she said    be safe & meant / to shield me from harm / that night / the truth I found

was that things never stay the way you mean them / how useful


is it that I can see you years later / & read all my attempts in plain sight / all the

times I tried to rewrite what had already happened into what I thought was supposed to be / the emails


& texts / pictures / daydreams / I hoarded, evidence / of the alternate realities I thought I deserved &

never came / those bronze letters


wearing the buildings where I watched you / never once saying what I felt / this campus / an imprecise sent-

-ence, just / however many years until we break / to


Columbia / oh, I can’t love like this / anymore / sometimes I imagine telling you

what he did / but that universe will never exist / & oh, sometimes / I go by


my old dorm to sit on the steps & say                      / I do wish    I was there / to rescue her / these lives / varying, various

fuck ‘em / in this real reality years later I hear them / the elite members


of this 36-acre black hole / where no one thinks anyone knows how it feels / invisible / but so viciously bright / of

this chain of reoccurring events / they let happen / year after year /          & I promise to never forget her / even in the


reality where I am happy / sometimes I’m 18 again / & I’m   so sorry / anyone / could’ve been her / at Columbia

18 & drowning / thrashing / screaming / do you see me? who would I tell? I have no friends I have no / community.

Zain Murdock (she/they) is a bisexual poet and abolitionist Pisces with other works in The Missouri Review, Slice Magazine, the Adroit Journal, and elsewhere.

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