Mortal Man

after Kendrick Lamar

by Ben Vock


Ever since I was a kid

I’ve had this irrational fear of caterpillars.

The way they inched around with a swagger,

their creepy tufts of hair,

just their presence in a public space

made me nervous.

If a saw one inching as I walked down the sidewalk

I would cross the street in fear.


My friends tried to rationalize with me how silly it was

They’re harmless!

Worst comes to worst

they’re easy to squash.

Walk all over them,

squish them under foot.

Its just another caterpillar,

no one will miss it.

In a few weeks time they’ll be butterflies.


I’m nearly eighteen now,

almost off to college,

and I still have this childish fear nestled comfortably on the back of my neck.

I’ve been starting to wonder where I’ve learned this behavior

If it’s deeper.

If anyone else has the same fear

of things that have the potential to become so beautiful.


I’ve seen the news stories lately

Of Eric garner getting squashed in a choke hold;

Of bullets poking five holes in Walter Scott’s cocoon

as we all watch his beauty bleed out of them

looping on every news channel

Of inner city schools starved with food deserts and budget cuts

so their kids can’t even make their cocoons

so afraid to watch the black boy fly

Of treating black bodies

like bugs that needed exterminating

Black men women and children, stunted and murdered

because of the swagger in their walk;

because of their nappy hair;

because of our fear of them in public space.

Spending so much effort

to make butterflies ashamed of the color on their own wings.


Makes me realize I’ve crossed streets before in fear

for more reasons than just a caterpillar

That maybe this fear is generational

That the same fear that rests on back of my neck

rested in the hands of slave master’s whips.


That same fear rested in hands with

guns drawn

assuming that unarmed black men

like Trayvon Martin

like Michael brown

can’t be as innocent as butterflies

making excuses like

I dont know

I’m no mortal man

maybe it’s just another...



I’m nearly 18 now

almost off to college

out my own cocoon

I cant help but feel like maybe I haven't been a butterfly all this time

maybe I’ve been the moth

feasting off of other colorful linens to keep my wings strong

appropriating culture to keep me afloat

leaving holes in the fabric of our excuses for murder

but then


Kendrick place a caterpillar in my palm

and for the first time

I didn’t feel the need to squash it

I let it sit there

as I watched my own wings emerge