© 2023 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Poem: Gift

Tomasz Zajda

In a city like Milwaukee, summertime brings mixed blessings. For many, summer heat means the return of festivals, outside dining, and long walks in the park. For others, it's a season rife with danger. Local poet and teacher, Jenny Benjamin, reflects on a summer night that changed her life forever. 

Last human thing felt
A toothache,
It carried him home from
The Pick-N-Save early.
He thought he'd cut across the park
On foot, his car in the shop,
Broken water pump, rusted belly.
He felt good this day, maybe,
Except the bad tooth.
Maybe he brought home a bit more money,
Maybe get some gold fronts like his cousin's.
The idea made him laugh.
Silly, he knew to save a little, give some
To his uncle who stayed in stillness
Since the accident.
He'd keep the cap, though
Felt just right on his head as he crossed
The Park, his new powdered blue shoes
To match the hat.


Shot dead.


His last thought maybe how he'd
Just give them what they wanted, the shoes,
Hand them a gift at gunpoint.
In my dreams he hands them to me smiling,
A Gullah way to reach the sacred when
The dead gives you something in dreams.
But this is an imagining in my blurry-eyed
Drive home from his wake,
A lost son of mine, the one I didn't have
But didn't have to but I still feel it,
My son.

Could I just have held on to this other life
To this child, not mine
But my thought is in the time that stays
In the last ache of tooth pain, a summer night
In the park, where he was thinking with his hands
To get through the dark.

Jenny Benjamin is a Milwaukee-based poet and teacher. 

Jenny Benjamin is an award-winning poet and novelist. Over 30 of her poems have appeared in journals, including DIAGRAM, South Carolina Review, Fulcrum, Baltimore Review, Chelsea, and the Crab Orchard Review. Her first novel, This Most Amazing, was published in 2013 by Armida Books in Nicosia, Cyprus. Her poetry chapbook, More Than a Box of Crayons, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.