Midnight Scream

We learned lyrics to the fight song
sang them in a sea of strangers on Saturday mornings
then, fueled by victory
or loss
we looped arms around each other’s shoulders and
swayed to the softness of the alma mater.
They told us if we walked into a crowded bar in
Brazil and yelled, “Go Green!” someone would
respond, “Go White!”
because that’s what it means to be a Spartan.
And we believed them.
We learned to tell time by the rhythms of the carillon
bells in Beaumont Tower
striking on the quarter hour.
We learned to love the pulse and buzz of campus
squeezed into 20 minutes between classes
measured by the meter of our own feet
pumping down the pavement.
We learned to wrestle the dormitory window
open at 11:59 p.m.
each night of finals week
lean toward the darkness
and with a collective roar
tear our throats open
at midnight.
(It’s important to me that you know–
When we were kids, we learned how to flick off the
lights, lock the doors, and sit in silence.
We learned to stack desks across door jambs and
wield scissors like young recruits.
They told us, “Guns don’t kill people.”
And we believed them.)
We learn of the shooting via texts
vibrating backpacks and pinging while we conjugate
irregular verbs in Spanish.
They tell us Secure-in-place.
They tell us
And we believe them.
We learn that terror blasts into buildings
leaps over groaning stairs
careens into classrooms
lingers like the stench of smoke
in the curtains.
And so
We sing a new fight song now
but we are no longer strangers
to grief, and fueled
by loss
we loop arms around each other’s shoulders and
weep for alma mater.
They tell us, “Never again.”
And we want to believe them.
But we learn to tell time by the before
and after, by the three tolls of the
crumbling citadel of our hearts.
We learn to love the first moments
of each morning
before the pulse and buzz
of our own blood pumping
reminds us what we survived.
We learn to wrestle with rage
learn the language of lament
lean toward the darkness
and with a collective roar
tear our throats open
at midnight.

Note: My first college class was in Berkey Hall on the campus of Michigan State University, one of the buildings where a deadly shooting occurred on February 13, 2023. After reading about the alerts sent to students and their reactions, I thought a lot about how my own collegiate experience will compare to that of current students. There is a tradition at MSU of doing a midnight scream each night of finals week, and I kept coming back to this image and my own rage about kids growing up in a country plagued by gun violence. If you are as angry as I am, please visit https://momsdemandaction.org to learn more about how you can help end gun violence.

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