They Had Us Go Around a Detour


The rogue wave that washed you off the blanket, sent you
tumbling across the beach with the folding chairs,
cooler, sunscreen, car keys in a hiss of surf and foam
to the exact spot where I stood and grabbed
your small hand.

The bridge I drove across in wheel-deep flood waters
on a storm-whipped night, washed away by morning.

The car that jumped the curb, plowed a row
of sidewalk tables directly across the street
while we waited for the light to change, churning
pitchers of ice tea, plates of pasta, a stroller
into the sharp sun of a hot summer day.


The pale young man
who climbs the stairs
to the roof of a building
with a clear view
of the street below.

The small delay.

We rode our bikes to the parade planning to watch from right where the shooting was, you wrote back the next day. They had us go around a detour so we were late for the start. We were about 200 feet away. First round we thought it was a performance at the grandstand. Second round and everyone was running.



Click here to read Todd Campbell on the origin of the poem.

Image: photo by James Lee on Unsplash, licensed under CC 2.0.

Todd Campbell: In April 2022, I visited Chicago for the first time since I was a kid and my parents piled us all into a dark green station wagon with fake wood paneling to make the annual summer pilgrimage to Milwaukee to visit my mother’s family—grandparents, aunts, uncles, and a large pack of cousins. Those visits were fun, mostly. We were boisterous and I remember walking to Lake Michigan, the zoo, Fourth of July fireworks, and gatherings around a huge dining table where the patriarchs smoked cigars and everyone fell over each other to be as funny as possible.

As part of those trips, we always went to Chicago to see Aunt Rose, Uncle Dick, Dorie, and Bobby. Dick was my mother’s uncle, which made Bobby my first cousin once removed, although he’s just a few months older. The visit to Chicago was very different. That household was quiet. Austere even. Maybe because Dick and Ruth were so much older? Or because Dick was a dentist? I’m not sure. Over the years, those connections unraveled. Dick and Ruth died. My mother had some sort of falling out with Dorie. I lost touch with Bobby.

And then, last April, I got in touch with him. Bobby — now Robert — lives north of Chicago, in Highland Park. It had been more than thirty years since we last saw each other. Married with grown children, he owns a small company that does high-end residential remodels and he drives beautifully restored vintage cars from the 1960s. We had a great lunch together and vowed to keep in touch.

On July 4, 2022, seven people were killed and 48 were wounded in Highland Park. When I heard about the shooting, I emailed Robert. His response is the closing stanza of my poem.

Todd Campbell
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