The Werther Effect
by Benjamin Walker
for Mohammed Bouazizi
In the public square I search for you, Mohammed.
Can a single degree matter? Can I ignore the signs
asking for change and roll up my window, or turn slack,
force my eyes into a kinder shape as a baton strikes
my knees? You showed me that, for all our demons-
trations of will, we’re governed by the same rules
that set us in motion at the beginning: The swiftest of us
finding weak points at our borders, escaping, the sly
outlasting, the sick eaten first. We can’t wait
for appointed hours – they come when we pour gasoline
on our fruit stands, on ourselves. This truth came
from my fall: death comes suddenly, surely as a deep scrape.
Should I give up, or should I weld myself in place,
soldered to an earlier stage of grief? Is it too late
to engage in denial? Too late to bargain? You be the judge
of my integrity. Try me. Test me. We’ll see if fire refines
my resolve, makes it unbreakable. But Mohammed – I
project your path, foresee fire-teams of militant bankers
and survivalists joining arms against the poets, perpetually
outgunned. In time I pray for the salvation of land
mines, the brutal clarity of a demilitarized zone.
I slice my soft hands open, searching through cabinets
for an unchipped glass of water. I abandon the square
where your testimony began. I seek the safety of sun-
less Metro tunnels, the comfort of wet concrete. I stop chanting
about freedom, stop test-flicking my lighter.
You weigh me in the balance, baptize me in gasoline.
Benjamin Walker is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. His poems recently appeared in PANK, SOFTBLOW, Orange Quarterly and other journals. New work is forthcoming in Mobius: the Journal of Social Change.