Get Lit Anthology

Filter By

Excerpt from "Brief Notes On Staying // No One is Making Their Best Work When They Want To Die"

I don’t mean sadness as much as I mean the obsession with it. Once, on the wrong edge of a bridge, a boy I knew who played songs let his feet slip off. I found a tape of his after he was gone, and the music sounded sweeter, or at least I told myself it did. What I really want to do is say that life is impossible, and the lie we tell ourselves is that it is too short. Life, if anything, is too long. We accumulate too much along the way. Too many heartbreaks, too many funerals, too many physical setbacks. It’s a miracle any of us survive at all. I know that I stopped thinking about extreme grief as the sole vehicle for great art when the grief started to take people with it. And I get it. The tortured artist is the artist that gets remembered for all time, particularly if they either perish or overcome. But the truth is that so many of us are stuck in the middle. So many of us begin tortured and end tortured, with only brief bursts of light in between, and I’d rather have average art and survival than miracles that come at the cost of someone’s life.

Afro-Latina

Afro-Latina,

Camina conmigo.

Salsa swagger

anywhere she go

como

'¡la negra tiene tumbao!

¡Azúcar!'

Dance to the rhythm.

Beat the drums of my skin.

Afrodescendant,

the rhythms within.

The first language

I spoke was Spanish.

Learned from lullabies

whispered in my ear.

My parents’ tongue

was a gift

which I quickly forgot

after realizing

my peers did not understand it. 

They did not understand me.

So I rejected

habichuela y mangú,

much preferring Happy Meals

and Big Macs.

Straightening my hair

in imitation of Barbie.

I was embarrassed

by my grandmother’s

colorful skirts

and my mother’s

eh brokee inglee

which cracked my pride

when she spoke.

So, shit, I would poke fun

at her myself,

hoping to lessen

the humiliation.

Proud to call myself

American,

a citizen

of this nation,

I hated

Caramel-color skin.

Cursed God

I’d been born

the color of cinnamon.

How quickly we forget

where we come from.

So remind me,

remind me

that I come from

the Taínos of the río

the Aztec,

the Mayan,

Los Incas,

los Españoles

con sus fincas

buscando oro,

and the Yoruba Africanos

que con sus manos

built a mundo

nunca imaginado.

I know I come

from stolen gold.

From cocoa,

from sugarcane,

the children

of slaves

and slave masters.

A beautifully tragic mixture,

a sancocho

of a race history.

And my memory

can't seem to escape

the thought

of lost lives

and indigenous rape.

Of bittersweet bitterness,

of feeling innate,

the soul of a people,

past, present and fate,

our stories cannot

be checked into boxes.

They are in the forgotten.

The undocumented,

the passed-down spoonfuls

of arroz con dulce

a la abuela's knee.

They're the way our hips

skip

to the beat of cumbia,

merengue

y salsa.

They're in the bending

and blending

of backbones.

We are deformed

and reformed

beings.

It's in the sway

of our song,

the landscapes

of our skirts,

the azúcar

beneath our tongues.

We are

the unforeseen children.

We're not a cultural wedlock,

hair too kinky for Spain,

too wavy for dreadlocks.

So our palms

tell the cuentos

of many tierras.

Read our lifeline,

birth of intertwine,

moonbeams

and starshine.

We are every

ocean crossed.

North Star navigates

our waters.

Our bodies

have been bridges.

We are the sons

and daughters,

el destino de mi gente,

black

brown

beautiful.

Viviremos para siempre

Afro-Latinos

hasta la muerte.

body without the "d"

the bo’y wakes up

the bo’y looks at itself

the bo’y notices something missing

there is both too much and not enough flesh on the bo’y

 

the bo’y is covered in hair

what a hairy bo’y

some makes it look more like a bo’y

some makes it look more like a monster

 

the bo’y did not learn to shave from its father

so it taught itself how to graze its skin and cut things off

the bo’y cuts itself by accident

the blood reminds the bo’y it is a bo’y

reminds the bo’y how a bo’y bleeds

reminds the bo’y that not every bo’y bleeds

 

the bo’y talks to a girl about bleeding

she explains how this bo’y works

this bo’y is different from hers

bo’y has too much and not enough flesh to be her

the biology of a bo’y is just

bo’y will only ever be a bo’y

 

the bo’y is Black

so the bo’y is and will only ever be a bo’y

the bo’y couldn’t be a man if it tried

the bo’y tried

 

the bo’y feels empty

the bo’y feels like it will only ever be empty

the bo’y feels that it will never hold the weight of another bo’y inside of it

no matter how many ds fit inside the bo’y

 

the bo’y is a hollow facade

it attempts a convincing veneer

bo’y dresses — what hips on the bo’y

bo’y paints its face — what lips on the bo’y

bo’y adorns itself with labels written for lovelier frames

what a beautiful bo’y

still a bo’y

but a fierce bo’y now

a royal bo’y now

a bo’y worthy of  being called queen

what a dazzling ruse

to turn a bo’y into a lie everyone loves to look at

 

the bo’y looks at itself

the bo’y sees all the gawking at its gloss

the bo’y hears all the masses asking for its missing

the bo’y offers all of its letters

— ‘ b ’ for the birth

— ‘ o ’ for the operation

— ‘ y ’ for the lack left in its genes

what this bo’y would abandon

for the risk of  being real

 

the bo’y is real

enough and too much

existing as its own erasure

— what an elusive d 

evading removal

avoiding recognition

leaving just a bo’y

 

that is never lost

but can’t be found

When I Grow Up

Ask me now

Am I too late?

Ask me now what I want to do for a living.

Am I too late? Cause I think I finally figured it out

I don't want to do for a living

I want to be life.

I want to make things grow, and move, and breath, and reproduce, and respond.

I just want to make things respond and react and rejoice and relax and relate and release and receive

as soon as I recite.

When I grow up, 

I don't want to be like those other kids who want to be doctors and ballers and astronauts.

I want to be passion, and heat and energy.

 

When I grow up,

I don't want to be a fireman, let me be the fire

The explosion behind the soul's big bang theory that leaves in it's place ... desire

That burning within that gives life to the word "aspire"

Let me warm the cold souls of the despairing and heartless

Let me light the paths of those wandering in the darkness

And provide children with their first definition of "hot" 

And when the artists of the world have become so infatuated with ice that the whole world freezes over, 

Let me be the poet that melts the ice-caps, drowns the planet, and starts this world over -

2 poets at a time like Noah ...

 

When I grow up

I don't want to be an astronaut, I want to be the space that he explores - 

Not the doctor, let me be the cure.

The prescription for a better life ...

the way through which the sick and the shut-in can find hope, health, happiness, and healing.

I want to be the pill of which they take two, and the call that is placed that next morning.

I want to be the white blood cell that strengthens the immune system,

the clot that stops the bleeding,

the antidote that counters the poison;

I want to speak antibiotic poetry that defeats your life's viruses,

but only if you take my words in 3 times a day until the entire bottle is gone;

I want to be the perspective of the world through the eyes of an autistic child who is diagnosed with a sickness

when in fact she merely sees the world with a clarity that the rest of us could only dream of having ...

 

When I grow up

I don't want to be a preacher, I want to be the word

Not the artist, I want to be the art

Not the painter, let me be the canvas

Not the choreographer, let me be the dances

Not the poet, let me be the stanzas

When I grow up

I don't want to be the singer, I want to be the sound!

The song you sing the way you sing it when you think aint nobody else around

 

When I grow up,

I don't want to be a lawyer I want to be justice.

Not the philosopher, but the philosophy that the brilliant minds try to follow,

Or the brilliance in those minds,

Or even the elusive concepts that they can't quite figure out like

hope, purpose, faith ... and time.

I wanna be time

When I grow up,

I want to be the antonym of void,

the antithesis of without,

the contradiction of silence,

the inverse of absence,

the reverse of regression,

the antilogy to emptiness,

the illumination of shadows,

the opposite of darkness...

I wanna be the opposite of darkness when I grow up!

So that when the greatest poet in existence

recites the first line 

of the greatest poem ever written

"let there be light"

then - I can begin.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

 

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

 

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

 

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Cento Between the Ending and the End

Sometimes you don’t die

 

when you’re supposed to

 

& now I have a choice

 

repair a world or build

 

a new one inside my body

 

a white door opens

 

into a place queerly brimming

 

gold light so velvet-gold

 

it is like the world

 

hasn’t happened

 

when I call out

 

all my friends are there

 

everyone we love

 

is still alive gathered

 

at the lakeside

 

like constellations

 

my honeyed kin

 

honeyed light

 

beneath the sky

 

a garden blue stalks

 

white buds the moon’s

 

marble glow the fire

 

distant & flickering

 

the body whole bright-

 

winged brimming

 

with the hours

 

of the day beautiful

 

nameless planet. Oh

 

friends, my friends—

 

bloom how you must, wild

 

until we are free.

That Girl

people only see me as that girl 

that fat girl just a little too black girl 

always sitting in the back girl 

that girl

people tell me you're weak girl 

no one wants to hear you speak girl 

look at me

I'm not at your feet girl 

stop crying girl 

it's not like you're dying girl 

no one would like you for who you are

and your career definitely won't go far

not with that hair those clothes those shoes 

you really need to change all of you girl

sometimes I tell myself 

you know depression ain’t cute girl 

and you should stop waiting 

and do what you have to do girl 

I mean if you're gonna end it then do it already girl 

just make sure you keep your hands steady girl 

you want to get it right girl 

just wait til night girl 

then get the knife girl

it only takes one slice girl 

look at you 

too weak to take your own life girl 

but God told me

aren't you tired of waiting to die girl 

all you have to do is try girl

I gave you life to live girl 

I gave you your gift to give girl 

I'm always here girl 

it's okay to shed a tear girl 

just don't fear girl 

because you are that girl 

made strong enough to carry the world on your back girl 

so stand up straight girl 

you will be great girl 

it is your fate girl 

don't worry about the past 

remember who was first shall be last 

so you've endured the worst girl

now it's your turn to be first girl 

then God held out his hands 

he said take this girl

don't waste it girl

you'll know when to use it girl 

it's a miracle girl 

like you, you are a miracle girl

Excerpt from "Giovanni's Room"

To remember it so clearly, so painfully tonight tells me that I have never for an instant truly forgotten it. I feel in myself now a faint, a dreadful stirring of what so overwhelmingly stirred in me then, great thirsty heat, and trembling, and tenderness so painful I thought my heart would burst. But out of this astounding, intolerable pain came joy; we gave each other joy that night. It seemed, then, that a lifetime would not be long enough for me to act with Joey the act of love.

Excerpt from "The Fire Next Time: My Dungeon Shook"

There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one's sense of one's own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don't be afraid. I said that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man's definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and, by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers—your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.

Ka 'Ba

A closed window looks down

on a dirty courtyard, and black people

call across or scream or walk across

defying physics in the stream of their will

 

Our world is full of sound

Our world is more lovely than anyone's

tho we suffer, and kill each other

and sometimes fail to walk the air

 

We are beautiful people

with african imaginations

full of masks and dances and swelling chants

 

with african eyes, and noses, and arms, 

though we sprawl in grey chains in a place

full of winters, when what we want is sun.

 

We have been captured, 

brothers. And we labor

to make our getaway, into

the ancient image, into a new

 

correspondence with ourselves

and our black family. We read magic

now we need the spells, to rise up

return, destroy, and create. What will be

 

the sacred words?

my dad asks "how come black folk can't just write about flowers?"

bijan been dead 11 months & my blue margin reduced to arterial, there’s a party at my house, a 

     house held by legislation vocabulary & trill. but hell, it’s ours & it sparkle on the corner of view 

     park, a channel of blk electric. danny wants to walk to the ledge up the block, & we an open 

     river of flex: we know what time it is. on the ledge, folk give up neck & dismantle gray 

     navigation for some slice of body. it’s june. it’s what we do.

 

walk down the middle of our road, & given view park, a lining of dubois’ 10th, a jack n jill feast, & 

     good blk area, it be our road. we own it. I’m sayin’ with money. our milk neighbors, collaborate 

     in the happy task of surveillance. they new. they pivot function. they call the khaki uniforms. i 

     swift. review the architecture of desire spun clean, & I could see how we all look like ghosts.

 

3 squad cars roll up at my door & it’s a fucking joke cuz exactly no squad cars rolled up to the 

     mcdonald’s bijan was shot at & exactly no squad cars rolled up to find the murders & exactly no 

     one did what could be categorized as they “job,” depending on how you define time spent for 

     money earned for property & it didn’t make me feel like I could see less of the gun in her holster 

     because she was blk & short & a woman, too. she go,

 

this your house?

I say yeah. she go,

can you prove it?

It say it mine.

she go ID? I say it mine.

she go backup on the sly

& interview me going all what’s your address—don’t look!

& hugh say I feel wild disrespected.

& white go can you explain that?

& danny say how far the nearest precinct?

& christian say fuck that.

& white go can you explain that?

 

I cross my arms. I’m bored & headlights quit being interesting after I called 911 when I was 2 years old because it was the only phone number I knew by heart.

failed avoidance of 'the body' in a poem

after TJ Jarrett

 

your therapist wants to know where

in your body you most feel your anxiety.

 

you tell her in the bones

behind your face. they have their own

 

music, like ptolemy’s universe,

and chirp like shuriken

 

dancing in the road. your therapist says

you hurt because there are things

 

you’ve never been taught to do:

how to hold yourself in sleep.

 

how to drive. how to live with men.

back when you were five—or maybe four—

 

your father knelt before you for the last

time, close enough

 

that you could smell him, a zephyr

of kool’s filter kings and leaving.

 

he pushed the tricycle toward you, purple and white

streamers limp as hair on the handlebars.

 

by the time you mounted the cranium-shaped

seat, he was gone.

 

your new goal is to learn to breathe

through bones, to make flutes of them.

 

although, in reality, you are much more supple:

a crooked fold of flesh that comes so quickly

 

when called. you are the warm-bellied

animal on the shoulder,

 

coated in sunscreen and your father’s curiosity:

white-haired possum with his green, green eyes.

 

you’re now the oldest you may ever be.

you have never before been this afraid.

 

there are no bodies bound to rush in the room

when your own becomes a bullet ringing the tiles.

 

you know all about “love’s austere and lonely

offices”: checking your stools for blood.

 

checking your breasts for lumps. checking your neck

for swelling nodes. checking the locks,

 

the coffeepot, all the cracked

eyes blinking fire on the kitchen stove.

 

your own weep against a pillowcase

you haven’t washed, stiff with the

 

miasma of your hair. you stare

at pictures of the girlfriend grinning in sunlight.

 

you feel bad for not being taken with yourself more,

but your body is all asymptotes and fractals.

 

your own skin splinters in the dark

from your dense heat. the pieces

 

come back together under a halo of prescriptions

steeping your head in yellow light. sometimes,

 

while combing your hair, a sliver of cartilage

lodges in your finger pad. you lick

 

the glittering blood and spit out the shard.

compared to your father, this is not unkind.

 

somewhere between your skull and the skin

that swaddles it, all the songs you didn’t know

 

you needed to learn from him appear

and vanish with the rhythm of your breathing.

The Pedestrian

When the pickup truck, with its side mirror,

almost took out my arm, the driver’s grin

 

reflected back; it was just a horror

 

show that was never going to happen,

don’t protest, don’t bother with the police

 

for my benefit, he gave me a smile—

 

he too was startled, redness in his face—

when I thought I was going, a short while,

 

to get myself killed: it wasn’t anger

 

when he bared his teeth, as if to caution

calm down, all good, no one died, ni[ght, neighbor]—

 

no sense getting all pissed, the commotion

 

of the past is the past; I was so dim,

he never saw me—of course, I saw him

Boy Breaking Glass

To Marc Crawford

from whom the commission

 

Whose broken window is a cry of art   

(success, that winks aware

as elegance, as a treasonable faith)

is raw: is sonic: is old-eyed première.

Our beautiful flaw and terrible ornament.   

Our barbarous and metal little man.

 

“I shall create! If not a note, a hole.   

If not an overture, a desecration.”

 

Full of pepper and light

and Salt and night and cargoes.

 

“Don’t go down the plank

if you see there’s no extension.   

Each to his grief, each to

his loneliness and fidgety revenge.

Nobody knew where I was and now I am no longer there.”

 

The only sanity is a cup of tea.   

The music is in minors.

 

Each one other

is having different weather.

 

“It was you, it was you who threw away my name!   

And this is everything I have for me.”

 

Who has not Congress, lobster, love, luau,   

the Regency Room, the Statue of Liberty,   

runs. A sloppy amalgamation.

A mistake.

A cliff.

A hymn, a snare, and an exceeding sun.

Speech to the Young: Speech to the Progress-Toward

Say to them,

say to the down-keepers,

the sun-slappers,

the self-soilers,

the harmony-hushers,

"Even if you are not ready for day

it cannot always be night."

You will be right.

For that is the hard home-run.

 

Live not for battles won.

Live not for the-end-of-the-song.

Live in the along.

To the Young Who Want to Die

Sit down. Inhale. Exhale.

The gun will wait. The lake will wait.

The tall gall in the small seductive vial

will wait will wait:

will wait a week: will wait through April.

You do not have to die this certain day.

Death will abide, will pamper your postponement.

I assure you death will wait. Death has

a lot of time. Death can

attend to you tomorrow. Or next week. Death is

just down the street; is most obliging neighbor;

can meet you any moment.

 

You need not die today.

Stay here--through pout or pain or peskyness.

Stay here. See what the news is going to be tomorrow.

 

Graves grow no green that you can use.

Remember, green's your color. You are Spring.

How to Tell My Dad that I Kissed a Man

Blame your drag queen roommate—Lamar by day, Mahogany by night—and then

blame his sequined dresses—all slit high, up to his balls

 

Explain that dusk smells so different in Spain—musky cherry—tight tangerine burst—sage

mixed with lavender

 

Tell him you were under the influence of bees or bats—the spin and swirl of doves

 

Tell him you were half asleep—about to leave to the dunes just west of Madrid—better

yet say forest—he knows that crazy shit happens in a forest

 

Tell him no tongue but his mouth—wax-like and wet

 

Tell him timing

 

Tell him ease

 

Tell him sweat and sweat

 

Tell him lips

 

Tell him the juice—yeah saffron juice

 

Tell him flat-chested

 

Tell him, “crook”—I mean, “creek”

 

Tell him tales—lies—tears—water—weakness—churros—chocolate—hot—heat—heave—  

 

Hush

 

Hush

 

Hush

 

Tell him anything you want—then tell him

 

You did it again

Duplex

I begin with love, hoping to end there.

I don’t want to leave a messy corpse.

 

              I don’t want to leave a messy corpse

              Full of medicines that turn in the sun.

 

Some of my medicines turn in the sun.

Some of us don’t need hell to be good.

 

              Those who need most, need hell to be good.

              What are the symptoms of your sickness?

 

Here is one symptom of my sickness:

Men who love me are men who miss me.

 

              Men who leave me are men who miss me

              In the dream where I am an island.

 

In the dream where I am an island,

I grow green with hope. I’d like to end there.

Say Thank You Say I'm Sorry

I don’t know whose side you’re on,

 

But I am here for the people

 

Who work in grocery stores that glow in the morning

 

And close down for deep cleaning at night

 

Right up the street and in cities I mispronounce,

 

In towns too tiny for my big black

 

Car to quit, and in every wide corner

 

Of Kansas where going to school means

 

At least one field trip

 

To a slaughterhouse. I want so little: another leather bound

 

Book, a gimlet with a lavender gin, bread

 

So good when I taste it I can tell you

 

How it’s made. I’d like us to rethink

 

What it is to be a nation. I’m in a mood about America

 

Today. I have PTSD

 

About the Lord. God save the people who work

 

In grocery stores. They know a bit of glamour

 

Is a lot of glamour. They know how much

 

It costs for the eldest of us to eat. Save

 

My loves and not my sentences. Before I see them,

 

I draw a mole near my left dimple,

 

Add flair to the smile they can’t see

 

Behind my mask. I grin or lie or maybe

 

I wear the mouth of a beast. I eat wild animals

 

While some of us grow up knowing

 

What gnocchi is. The people who work at the grocery don’t care.

 

They say, Thank you. They say, Sorry,

 

We don’t sell motor oil anymore with a grief so thick

 

You could touch it. Go on. Touch it.

 

It is early. It is late. They have washed their hands.

 

They have washed their hands for you.

 

And they take the bus home.

working title

The name of this poem is: 

How to write a poem about Ferguson 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How a black man dies and no one makes a sound 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

Everywhere is Ferguson 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

When the moonrise sounds like gunshots 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to teach your babies to walk and not run, ever.

Or

The name of this poem is: 

How to teach your babies to carry a wallet 

the size of your smile 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to smile & not make yourself a target 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to write a poem the same size of Emmett Till’s lungs 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to write a poem about America’s thirst 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

Black blood’ll keep you thirsty 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

I’m still thirsty, An American Horror Story 

Or 

The name of this poem is:

How to write an escape route from a tornado 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to write an escape route 

when the tornado’s name is Stop & Frisk 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How walk the streets without fearing 

someone will cut your neck open 

Or 

How to walk into a boardroom 

without fearing someone will cut your legacy open 

Or

How to walk without asking for it 

Or 

How to walk without asking for it 

Or 

How to determine what “asking for it” looks like 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How “asking for it” feel like a church bombing 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to not intimidate nobody in 3 small steps 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to use your science books as Teflon 

& how that still might not work 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to write about the one time you held a gun 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

  How to write about the one time you had a gun pointed to your face 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to write about the one time you had a gun pointed to your face 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to write about the one time you had a gun pointed to your face 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to write about the one time you had a gun pointed to your face 

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to write a poem from the perspective of a cop’s gun 

a cop’s Taser

a cop’s baton

a cop’s boot

Or 

The name of this poem is: 

How to write poem without r e p e a t i n g yourself

Excerpt from "Parable of the Sower"

There is no end

To what a living world

Will demand of you.

Untitled

My house got robbed in New York. I didn't even call the police. I wanted to, but I couldn't. My crib is too nice. It's not that it's too nice, but it's too nice for me. You know how the police are in New York. Soon as I open the door, they'll be like, "He's still here! Open and shut case, Johnson. Apparently this black guy broke in and hung up pictures of his family everywhere. Never seen anything like it.

Mixed Bitch

is allowed to love herself.

 

She wants to tell Nikky Finney

about her beautiful black girl arms

how they shimmer and shimmy in space—  

making muscle songs of her tendons

and the dark matter beef.

 

Mixed Bitch wants to commission Kehinde Wiley.

She wants renaissance prints behind her mulatto skin,

gold lamé and a big ass frame inside the First

Museum.

 

She was caught between two allegiances, different,

yet the same. Herself. Her race. Race! The thing

that bound and suffocated her. Whatever steps

she took, or if she took none at all, something

would be crushed. Crushed?

 

Mixed Bitch don’t know her Daddy.

Mixed Bitch don’t know her Daddy.

Mixed          Bitch

           don’t know

her       Daddy.

 

But ain’t she still allowed to love herself?

 

Mixed Bitch lets herself love— 

the black inside: the white inside: the black of herself.

My Therapist Wants to Know about My Relationship to Work

I hustle

                upstream.

I grasp.

                I grind.

I control & panic. Poke

balloons in my chest,

always popping there,

always my thoughts thump,

thump. I snooze — wake & go

boom. All day, like this I short

my breath. I scroll & scroll.

I see what you wrote — I like.

I heart. My thumb, so tired.

My head bent down, but not

in prayer, heavy from the looking.

I see your face, your phone-lit

faces. I tap your food, two times

for more hearts. I retweet.

I email: yes & yes & yes.

Then I cry & need to say: no-no-no.

Why does it take so long to reply?

I FOMO & shout. I read. I never

enough. New book. New post.

New ping. A new tab, then another.

Papers on the floor, scattered & stacked.

So many journals, unbroken white spines,

waiting. Did you hear that new new?

I start to text back. Ellipsis, then I forget.

I balk. I lazy the bed. I wallow when I write.

I truth when I lie. I throw a book

when a poem undoes me. I underline

Clifton: today we are possible. I start

from image. I begin with Phillis Wheatley.

I begin with Phillis Wheatley. I begin

with Phillis Wheatley reaching for coal.

I start with a napkin, receipt, or my hand.

I muscle memory. I stutter the page. I fail.

Hit delete — scratch out one more line. I sonnet,

then break form. I make tea, use two bags.

Rooibos again. I bathe now. Epsom salt.

No books or phone. Just water & the sound

of water filling, glory — be my buoyant body,

bowl of me. Yes, lavender, more bubbles

& bath bomb, of course some candles too.

All alone with Coltrane. My favorite, “Naima,”

for his wife, now for me, inside my own womb.

Again, I child back. I float. I sing. I simple

& humble. Eyes close. I low my voice,

was it a psalm? Don’t know. But I stopped.

poem in praise of menstruation

if there is a river

more beautiful than this

bright as the blood

red edge of the moon          if

 

there is a river

more faithful than this

returning each month

to the same delta          if there

 

is a river

braver than this

coming and coming in a surge

of passion, of pain          if there is

 

a river

more ancient than this

daughter of eve

mother of cain and of abel          if there is in

 

the universe such a river          if

there is some where water

more powerful than this wild

water

pray that it flows also

through animals

beautiful and faithful and ancient

and female and brave

why some people be mad at me sometimes

they ask me to remember

but they want me to remember

their memories

and i keep on remembering

mine.

Excerpt from "Between the World and Me" 1

Think of all the love poured into him. Think of the tuitions for Montessori and music lessons. Think of the gasoline expended, the treads worn carting him to football games, basketball tournaments, and Little League. Think of the time spent regulating sleepovers. Think of the surprise birthday parties, the daycare, and the reference checks on babysitters. Think of World Book and Childcraft. Think of checks written for family photos. Think of credit cards charged for vacations. Think of soccer balls, science kits, chemistry sets, racetracks, and model trains. Think of all the embraces, all the private jokes, customs, greetings, names, dreams, all the shared knowledge and capacity of a black family injected into that vessel of flesh and bone. And think of how that vessel was taken, shattered on the concrete, and all its holy contents, all that had gone into him, sent flowing back to the earth.

Excerpt from "Between The World And Me" 2

To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.

Bedtime Story

bed calls. i sit in the dark in the living room 

trying to ignore them

 

in the morning, especially Sunday mornings 

it will not let me up. you must sleep 

longer, it says

 

facing south

the bed makes me lay heavenward on my back 

while i prefer a westerly fetal position 

facing the wall

 

the bed sucks me sideways into it when i  

sit down on it to put on my shoes. this

persistence on its part forces me to dress in 

the bathroom where things are less subversive

 

the bed lumps up in anger springs popping out to

scratch my dusky thighs

 

my little office sits in the alcove adjacent to 

the bed. it makes strange little sighs

which distract me from my work 

sadistically i pull back the covers 

put my typewriter on the sheet and turn it on

 

the bed complains that i'm difficult duty 

its slats are collapsing. it bitches when i 

blanket it with books and papers. it tells me

it's made for blood and bone

 

lately spiders ants and roaches

have invaded it searching for food

Dear Mama (4)

when did we become friends?

it happened so gradual i didn't notice

maybe i had to get my run out first

take a big bite of the honky world and choke on it

maybe that's what has to happen with some uppity youngsters

if it happens at all

 

and now

the thought stark and irrevocable

of being here without you

shakes me

 

beyond love, fear, regret or anger

into that realm children go

who want to care for/protect their parents

as if they could

and sometimes the lucky ones do

 

into the realm of making every moment

important

laughing as though laughter wards off death

each word given

received like spanish eight

 

treasure to bury within

against that shadow day

when it will be the only coin i possess

with which to buy peace of mind

Fruit Of The Flower

My father is a quiet man

With sober, steady ways;

For simile, a folded fan;

His nights are like his days.

My mother's life is puritan,

No hint of cavalier,

A pool so calm you're sure it can

Have little depth to fear.

 

And yet my father's eyes can boast

How full his life has been;

There haunts them yet the languid ghost

Of some still sacred sin.

 

And though my mother chants of God,

And of the mystic river,

I've seen a bit of checkered sod

Set all her flesh aquiver.

 

Why should he deem it pure mischance

A son of his is fain

To do a naked tribal dance

Each time he hears the rain?

 

Why should she think it devil's art

That all my songs should be

Of love and lovers, broken heart,

And wild sweet agony?

 

Who plants a seed begets a bud,

Extract of that same root;

Why marvel at the hectic blood

That flushes this wild fruit?

Flu Season

In the summer of 2014, hundred of Memphis police officers

caught the “blue flu,” and took sick days to protest a reduction in

benefits. Almost 40% of the City’s general fund is spent on policing.

 

It's flu season and I'm sick of bills. It's all 

Destiny's Child: bills, bills, bills. We have 

armored trucks and SkyCops and no food. 

We have body cams and no food and the body 

cams are never recording. Have you ever been 

denied so much you came down with a blue flu? 

Have you ever been as blue as a jar of Blue Magic, 

set of blueprints, a river filling with femurs, dull, 

red kidneys? I've heard the cops started as a better 

way to catch niggas. Somehow a person with no

-thing is always the most dangerous. How many 

times have my taxes paid for riot shields 

cliquing together like birds? How much over-

time occupies my block and its quiet? Look: 

I lock the door when I'm sure no one's coming. 

I ask the ghetto bird, if only briefly, to wait. All my 

life, I've been asking for a park. Fresh oranges 

that don't take 3 hours to bring home.

Learning Whitney

My father loved my mama

quiet. She never was.

 

Sang as she dusted,

Whitney was her back-up singer.

 

He’d disappear, stumble in,

bright blues still in his mouth.

 

I come from a family of men

who thought saying I love you

 

was something you saved for sleep or the dead

and tears could get your ass whooped.

Why I don't write about George Floyd

Because there is too much to say

Because I have nothing to say

Because I don’t know what to say

Because everything has been said

Because it hurts too much to say

What can I say what can I say

Something is stuck in my throat

Something is stuck like an apple

Something is stuck like a knife

Something is stuffed like a foot

Something is stuffed like a body

Heartbeats

Work out. Ten laps.

Chin ups. Look good.

 

Steam room. Dress warm.

Call home. Fresh air.

 

Eat right. Rest well.

Sweetheart. Safe sex.

 

Sore throat. Long flu.

Hard nodes. Beware.

 

Test blood. Count cells.

Reds thin. Whites low.

 

Dress warm. Eat well.

Short breath. Fatigue.

 

Night sweats. Dry cough.

Loose stools. Weight loss.

 

Get mad. Fight back.

Call home. Rest well.

 

Don’t cry. Take charge.

No sex. Eat right.

 

Call home. Talk slow.

Chin up. No air.

 

Arms wide. Nodes hard.

Cough dry. Hold on.

 

Mouth wide. Drink this.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

 

No air. Breathe in.

Breathe in. No air.

 

Black out. White rooms.

Head hot. Feet cold.

 

No work. Eat right.

CAT scan. Chin up.

 

Breathe in. Breathe out.

No air. No air.

 

Thin blood. Sore lungs.

Mouth dry. Mind gone.

 

Six months? Three weeks?

Can’t eat. No air.

 

Today? Tonight?

It waits. For me.

 

Sweet heart. Don’t stop.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Heart to Heart

It’s neither red

nor sweet.

It doesn’t melt

or turn over,

break or harden,

so it can’t feel

pain,

yearning,

regret.

 

It doesn’t have 

a tip to spin on,

it isn’t even

shapely—

just a thick clutch

of muscle,

lopsided,

mute. Still,

I feel it inside

its cage sounding

a dull tattoo:

I want, I want—

 

but I can’t open it:

there’s no key.

I can’t wear it

on my sleeve,

or tell you from

the bottom of it

how I feel. Here,

it’s all yours, now—

but you’ll have

to take me,

too.

The Debt

This is the debt I pay

Just for one riotous day,

Years of regret and grief,

Sorrow without relief.

 

Pay it I will to the end —

Until the grave, my friend,

Gives me a true release —

Gives me the clasp of peace.

 

Slight was the thing I bought,

Small was the debt I thought,

Poor was the loan at best —

God! but the interest!

Characteristics of Life

A fifth of animals without backbones could be at risk of extinction, say scientists.

-BBC Nature News

 

Ask me if I speak for the snail and I will tell you

I speak for the snail.

                          speak of underneathedness

and the welcome of mosses,

                                        of life that springs up,

little lives that pull back and wait for a moment.

 

I speak for the damselfly, water skeet, mollusk,

the caterpillar, the beetle, the spider, the ant.

                                                        I speak

from the time before spinelessness was frowned upon.

 

Ask me if I speak for the moon jelly. I will tell you

                        one thing today and another tomorrow

        and I will be as consistent as anything alive

on this earth.

 

              I move as the currents move, with the breezes.

What part of your nature drives you? You, in your cubicle

ought to understand me. I filter and filter and filter all day.

 

Ask me if I speak for the nautilus and I will be silent

as the nautilus shell on a shelf. I can be beautiful

and useless if that's all you know to ask of me.

 

Ask me what I know of longing and I will speak of distances

        between meadows of night-blooming flowers.

                                                        I will speak

                        the impossible hope of the firefly.

 

                                                You with the candle

burning and only one chair at your table must understand

        such wordless desire.

 

                         To say it is mindless is missing the point.

Ode to Gossips

i was mothered by lonely women       some

of  them wives     some of them             with

 

plumes of  smoke for husbands    all    lonely

smelling of  onions & milk         all mothers

 

some of them to children some to old names

phantom girls acting out a life        only half

 

a life away      instead        copper kitchenware

bangles pushed up the arm    fingernails rusted

 

with henna          kneading raw meat with salt

with coriander                     sweating upper lip

 

in the steam       weak tea          hair unwound

against the nape         my deities      each one

 

sandal slapping against stone heel      sandal-

wood & oud                    bright chiffon spun

 

about each head     coffee in the dowry china

butter biscuits on a painted plate      crumbs

 

suspended in eggshell demitasse       & they

begin                  i heard       people are saying

 

i saw it with my own eyes       [      ]’s daughter

a scandal                  she was wearing [      ]

 

& not wearing [   ]            can you imagine

a shame                                             a shame

Fuck / Shakespeare

And another thing / the grace you brought Othello / how you forged that moor / got him talking down his eloquence as if his tongue wasn’t part swan feather / part molasses / how you wrote a church of darkness steepled by Iago / and Ol’ Thello its soul / beacon of honor and light / Bruh / that shit literary fire / race-theory brimstone / middle-passage gold

 

but /

 

how you played Caliban / his tongue as Othello’s / and just as wronged / How you imbibed him with / emblemed him of colonized peoples / got me all riled up / imagining my ancestor’s vengeance / a rough blade thrust through Prospero’s proud heart / but you didn’t / Play ends / Cali still enslaved / Bruh / that shit fucked

I Turn the Volume Down Because Beyonce Says Fuck in Car While I Drive My Daughter to School

the four-year-old                  gives her              first

 

            protest of the   morning                whether intentional

 

            or the default position of her mother's resolve

 

her fist is balled in              the way a boy would          grip her  hair

 

              in a   kindergarten class or                at any age that    boys

 

               put                         their        names  on things

 

she says, hey I   like       that song and Beyoncé has         already finished

 

              saying                  I'm gonna fuck me up a bitch                          so

 

               I turn the             volume back up                to five seconds                 ago

 

before a father                 once told a Black woman she was                too loud to         

 

            fill        his daughter's lungs      before the        tabernacle

 

            of mist filled the               car until all we   knew to               breathe  was

 

gunsmoke        and the ire of   men  interrupting  the choir     of crows

 

              that               ain't meant for                  their ears             and I        know

 

               it doesn't                             take much          to get this little                  girl's blood

 

​into      a spell  because it was once                       her              grandmother's

 

               blood                    which    means                                  there will             be

 

               a                   day when            someone             some man              tries to pull      it            

 

out of   her       and      she becomes a wound                  where the curses             her

 

           father hid         from  her come                 tumbling  out of                  the     

 

​            same

 

​tomb    where   she once buried a         woman with a too        quiet    face

I come from the fire city

i come from the fire city / fire came and licked up our houses, 

lapped them up like they were nothing / drank them like the last 

dribbling water from a concrete fountain / the spigot is too hot to 

touch with your lips be careful / fire kissed us and laughed / and 

even now the rust climbs the walls, red ivy / iron fire and the brick 

blossoms florid / red like stolen lipstick ground down to a small 

flat earth / stand on any corner of the fire city, look west to death 

/ the red sun eats the bungalows / the fire city children watch 

with their fingers in their mouths / to savor the flaming hots or 

hot flamins or hot crunchy curls or hot chips / they open the fire 

hydrants in the fire city and lay dollar store boats in the gutters / 

warrior funeral pyres unlit

Thank God I Can't Drive

My brain is trying so hard to outrun this. 

It is doing more work than the lie.

 

I could go to jail for anything. I look like that 

kind of girl. I only speak one language. I am

 

of prestige but can’t really prove it. Not if 

my hands are tied. Not if my smartphone is

 

seized. Not if you can’t google me. Without 

an archive of human bragging rights, I’m

 

fucking nobody, an empty bag, two-toned 

luggage. I’m not trying to be sanctimonious,

 

I just found out that I’m afraid to die, like, 

there goes years of posturing about, beating it

 

like I own it, taking it to the bathroom with 

the tampons—like, look at me, I am so agent

 

and with all this agency I can just deploy 

death at any time. The truth is

 

that I’m already on the clock, I’m just a few 

notches down on the “black-girl-with-bad

 

mouth” list, the street lights go out and I’m 

just at the mercy of my own bravery and

 

their punts of powerlessness, their “who 

the hell do you think you are’s?”

fat girl Confuses Food & Therapy, Again

after Jennifer Jackson Berry

 

Who hasn’t carved a fork

through a cut of cake and tasted

dollar store crowns, neon streamers,

wind-up toys coruscating on the rug

like confetti, tune of our skittering

shoes, fingers hooked to scoop

jam from the sandwiches, thumbs plump

as blackberries in our wild, wagging

mouths—those honeyed years

before I understood my body’s struggle

against the morning’s golden net.

Now, the patterned progress of neighbors

through the day’s long maw goes grayscale

and the nearby train scrambling the tracks

hums like static. My partner slabs

his tongue inside me, layers each lick

like strips of papier-mâché. I should tell him

there’s no use, but instead pour ink-like

to the fridge for another bite of cake,

feel, finally, like a bird’s nest, its delicate dip

of twig and twine, slip a new gown

of frosting on my tongue, hope what sugars

stays long enough for one of us to taste it.

Confronting Hatred

how beautiful would it be

if we lived in a place

 

where everyone called hatred

by its full name,

 

tapped it on the shoulder,

looked into its eyes

without shaking

and said

 

“you cannot live here

anymore.”

Potato Chips

Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips

Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips

Crunch, crunch, I don't want no lunch

All I want is potato chips

Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips

Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips

Crunch, crunch, I don't want no lunch

All I want is potato chips

No matter where it is

You'll always find a bag around

Be it in a bar or picnic, even a baseball ground

Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips

Potato Chips, holy drip drip drips

Crunch, crunch, I don't want no lunch

All I want is potato chips

Bag bag bag

Bag of Potato Chips

Potato Chips, high crunchy, crunchy

Potato Chips, crunch, crunchy, crunchy

Crunch, crunch, crunch, I don't want no lunch

All I want is potato chips

Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips

Potato Chips, crunchy, crunchy, crunchy, crunchy, crunchy, crunchy

Don't bring me no lunch, All I want is potato chips

No matter where it is

You'll find a bag around

I could be even in a bar or picnic, or a baseball ground

Doesn't matter

Potato, potato, a chippy chipo

Crunch, crunch

Bring me no lunch, All I want is potato chips

Love, I'm Done with You

You ever wake up with your footie PJs warming

your neck like a noose? Ever upchuck

after a home-cooked meal? Or notice

how the blood on the bottoms of your feet

just won’t seem to go away? Love, it used to be

you could retire your toothbrush for like two or three days and still

I’d push my downy face into your neck. Used to be

I hung on your every word. (Sing! you’d say: and I was a bird.

Freedom! you’d say: and I never really knew what that meant,

but liked the way it rang like a rusty bell.) Used to be. But now

I can tell you your breath stinks and you’re full of shit.

You have more lies about yourself than bodies

beneath your bed. Rooting

for the underdog. Team player. Hook,

line and sinker. Love, you helped design the brick

that built the walls around the castle

in the basement of which is a vault

inside of which is another vault

inside of which . . . you get my point. Your tongue

is made of honey but flicks like a snake’s. Voice

like a bird but everyone’s ears are bleeding.

From the inside your house shines

and shines, but from outside you can see

it’s built from bones. From out here it looks

like a graveyard, and the garden’s

all ash. And besides,

your breath stinks. We’re through.

Excerpt from "Hunger"

When you’re overweight, your body becomes a matter of public record in many respects. Your body is constantly and prominently on display. People project assumed narratives onto your body and are not at all interested in the truth of your body, whatever that truth might be. Fat, much like skin color, is something you cannot hide, no matter how dark the clothing you wear, or how diligently you avoid horizontal stripes.

Allowables

I killed a spider

Not a murderous brown recluse

Nor even a black widow

And if the truth were told this

Was only a small

Sort of papery spider

Who should have run

When I picked up the book

But she didn’t

And she scared me

And I smashed her

 

I don’t think

I’m allowed

 

To kill something

 

Because I am

 

Frightened

I Take Master Card (Charge Your Love To Me)

I've heard the stories

'bout how you don't deserve me

'cause I'm so strong and beautiful and wonderful and you could

never live up to what you know I should have but I just want to let you know:

 

I take Master Card

 

You can love me as much as your heart can stand

then put the rest on

account and pay the interest

each month until we get this thing settled

 

You see we modern women do comprehend

that we deserve a whole lot more

than what is normally being offered but we are trying

to get aligned with the modern world

 

So baby you can love me all

you like 'cause you're pre-approved

and you don't have to sign on

the bottom line

 

Charge it up

'til we just can't take no more

it's the modern way

 

I take Master Card

to see your Visa

and I deal with a Discovery but I don't want any American

Express 'cause like the Pointer Sisters say:  I need a slow hand

Noche de Lluvia, San Salvador

Rain who nails the earth,

whose infinite legs

nail the earth, whose silver faces

touch my faces, I marry you. & open

all the windows of my house to hear

your million feral versions

of si si

                   sí

 

            si



                          si

Some of My Worst Wounds

Some of my worst wounds

have healed into poems.

A few well-placed

stabs in the back

have released a singing

trapped between my shoulders.

A carrydown

has lent leverage

to the tongue’s rise

and betrayals sent words

hurrying home

to toe the line again.

The Hill We Climb

When day comes we ask ourselves,

where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry,

a sea we must wade

We've braved the belly of the beast

We've learned that quiet isn't always peace

And the norms and notions

of what just is

Isn't always just-ice

And yet the dawn is ours

before we knew it

Somehow we do it

Somehow we've weathered and witnessed

a nation that isn't broken

but simply unfinished

We the successors of a country and a time

Where a skinny Black girl

descended from slaves and raised by a single mother

can dream of becoming president

only to find herself reciting for one

And yes we are far from polished

far from pristine

but that doesn't mean we are

striving to form a union that is perfect



We are striving to forge a union with purpose

To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and

conditions of man

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us

but what stands before us

We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,

we must first put our differences aside

We lay down our arms

so we can reach out our arms

to one another

We seek harm to none and harmony for all

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:

That even as we grieved, we grew

That even as we hurt, we hoped

That even as we tired, we tried

That we'll forever be tied together, victorious

Not because we will never again know defeat

but because we will never again sow division

Scripture tells us to envision

that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree

And no one shall make them afraid

If we're to live up to our own time

Then victory won't lie in the blade

But in all the bridges we've made

That is the promise to glade

The hill we climb

If only we dare

It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,

it's the past we step into

and how we repair it

We've seen a force that would shatter our nation

rather than share it

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy

And this effort very nearly succeeded

But while democracy can be periodically delayed

it can never be permanently defeated

In this truth

in this faith we trust

For while we have our eyes on the future

history has its eyes on us

This is the era of just redemption

We feared at its inception

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs

of such a terrifying hour

but within it we found the power

to author a new chapter

To offer hope and laughter to ourselves

So while once we asked,

how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?

Now we assert

How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was

but move to what shall be

A country that is bruised but whole,

benevolent but bold,

fierce and free

We will not be turned around

or interrupted by intimidation

because we know our inaction and inertia

will be the inheritance of the next generation

Our blunders become their burdens

But one thing is certain:

If we merge mercy with might,

and might with right,

then love becomes our legacy

and change our children's birthright

So let us leave behind a country

better than the one we were left with

Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,

we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one

We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,

we will rise from the windswept northeast

where our forefathers first realized revolution

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,

we will rise from the sunbaked south

We will rebuild, reconcile and recover

and every known nook of our nation and

every corner called our country,

our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,

battered and beautiful

When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we're brave enough to see it

If only we're brave enough to be it

Gallery Songs

for Cynthia

 

I. If you want to buy my wares…

 

In the gallery, Desperation and Need are not for sale,

neither is Night’s Mist,

 

but you can buy What Makes Love 

Fade.

Come, see:

 

the crescent of her body in the clutch of need,

 

the drenched mop of her body

cutting the red flame with its shadows,

 

these small photos you can buy.

 

II. What Makes Love Fade?

 

Money or Lack, Noise or Silence,

I answer expertly.

 

I am a scientist, dissecting

this heart like a greasy frog,

handlings its limp tubes

with my metal fingers.

 

III. Estas son las mañanitas…

 

You said my heart hopped

like a rana and sang me a frog song,

rubbing your fingers on me,

fingers that you think are crooked.

 

Sana, sana, heal, heal,

you sang, if not today, mañana,

rubbing your hands on me,

hands too small to hide a strawberry.

 

Despierta, mi bien, despierta,

I want to touch you

while you are wide awake

with my dirty mouth.

Excerpt from "The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley"

I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. I certainly wasn’t seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students. My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America. Not long ago, an English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions. One was, “What’s your alma mater?” I told him, “Books.” You will never catch me with a free fifteen minutes in which I’m not studying something I feel might be able to help the black man.

Song for the People

Let me make the songs for the people,

   Songs for the old and young;

Songs to stir like a battle-cry

   Wherever they are sung.

 

Not for the clashing of sabres,

   For carnage nor for strife;

But songs to thrill the hearts of men

   With more abundant life.

 

Let me make the songs for the weary,

   Amid life’s fever and fret,

Till hearts shall relax their tension,

   And careworn brows forget.

 

Let me sing for little children,

   Before their footsteps stray,

Sweet anthems of love and duty,

   To float o’er life’s highway.

 

I would sing for the poor and aged,

   When shadows dim their sight;

Of the bright and restful mansions,

   Where there shall be no night.

 

Our world, so worn and weary,

   Needs music, pure and strong,

To hush the jangle and discords

   Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.

 

Music to soothe all its sorrow,

   Till war and crime shall cease; 

And the hearts of men grown tender

   Girdle the world with peace.

Makin' Jump Shots

He waltzes into the lane

’cross the free-throw line,

fakes a drive, pivots,

floats from the asphalt turf

in an arc of black light,

and sinks two into the chains.

 

One on one he fakes

down the main, passes

into the free lane

and hits the chains.

 

A sniff in the fallen air—

he stuffs it through the chains

riding high:

“traveling” someone calls—

and he laughs, stepping

to a silent beat, gliding

as he sinks two into the chains.

Single Lines Looking Forward. or One Monostich Past 45

The joke is orange. which has never been funny.

 

For awhile I didn’t sleep on my bright side.

 

Many airplanes make it through sky.

 

The joke is present. dented and devil.

 

For awhile, yellow spots on the wall.

 

Obama on water skis, the hair in his armpits, free.

 

I thought the CIA was operative. 

 

Across the alley, a woman named Mildred.

 

Above the clouds in a plane, a waistline of sliced white.

 

I don’t sound like TED Talk, or smart prose on Facebook.

 

These clouds are not God. 

 

I keep thinking about Coltrane; how little he talked. 

 

This is so little; I give so little.

 

Sometimes when I say something to white people, they say “I’m sorry?”

 

During Vietnam, Bob Kaufman stopped talking. 

 

The CIA was very good at killing Panthers. 

 

Mildred in a housecoat, calling across the fence, over her yard.

 

If I were grading this, I’d be muttering curses.

 

The joke is a color. a color for prison.

 

Is it me, or is the sentence, as structure, arrogant?

 

All snow, in here, this writing, departure.

 

All miles are valuable. all extension. all stretch.

 

I savor the air with both fingers, and tongue.

 

Mildred asks about the beats coming from my car.

 

I forgot to bring the poem comparing you to a garden.

 

Someone tell me what to say to my senators.

 

No one smokes here; in the rain, I duck away and smell piss.

 

I thought the CIA was. the constitution.

 

I feel like he left us, for water skis, for kitesurfing. 

 

The sun will not always be so gracious.

 

From the garden poem, one line stands out.

 

Frank Ocean’s “Nights” is a study in the monostich.

 

Pace is not breathing, on and off. off.

 

Mildred never heard of Jneiro Jarel.

 

I’m afraid one day I’ll find myself remembering this air.

 

The last time I saw my mother, she begged for fried chicken. 

 

My father still sitting there upright, a little high.  

 

Melissa McCarthy could get it.

 

Sometimes, I forget how to touch.

 

In a parking garage, I wait for the toothache.

 

I watch what I say all the time now.

 

She said she loved my touch, she used the word love.

 

In 1984, I’d never been in the sky.

 

My mother walked a laundry cart a mile a day for groceries.

 

Betsy DeVos is confirmed. with a broken tie.

 

Mildred’s five goes way up, and my five reaches.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

 

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,

 

Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

George Floyd

You can be a bother who dyes

his hair Dennis Rodman blue

in the face of the man kneeling in blue

in the face the music of his wrist-

watch your mouth is little more

than a door being knocked

out of the ring of fire around

the afternoon came evening’s bell

of the ball and chain around the neck

of the unarmed brother ground down

to gunpowder dirt can be inhaled

like a puff the magic bullet point

of transformation both kills and fires

the life of the party like it’s 1999 bottles

of beer on the wall street people

who sleep in the streets do not sleep

without counting yourself lucky

rabbit’s foot of the mountain

lion do not sleep without

making your bed of the river

boat gambling there will be

no stormy weather on the water

bored to death any means of killing

time is on your side of the bed

of the truck transporting Emmett

till the break of day Emmett till

the river runs dry your face

the music of the spheres

Emmett till the end of time

Nothing

I ask a student how I can help her. Nothing is on her paper.

It’s been that way for thirty-five minutes. She has a headache. 

She asks to leave early. Maybe I asked the wrong question. 

I’ve always been dumb with questions. When I hurt, 

I too have a hard time accepting advice or gentleness.

I owe for an education that hurt, and collectors call my mama’s house. 

I do nothing about my unpaid bills as if that will help. 

I do nothing about the mold on my ceiling, and it spreads. 

I do nothing about the cat’s litter box, and she pisses on my new bath mat. 

Nothing isn’t an absence. Silence isn’t nothing. I told a woman I loved her, 

and she never talked to me again. I told my mama a man hurt me,

and her hard silence told me to keep my story to myself. 

Nothing is full of something, a mass that grows where you cut at it. 

I’ve lost three aunts when white doctors told them the thing they felt 

was nothing. My aunt said nothing when it clawed at her breathing.

I sat in a room while it killed her. I am afraid when nothing keeps me 

in bed for days. I imagine what my beautiful aunts are becoming 

underground, and I cry for them in my sleep where no one can see. 

Nothing is in my bedroom, but I smell my aunt’s perfume 

and wake to my name called from nowhere. I never looked 

into a sky and said it was empty. Maybe that’s why I imagine a god 

up there to fill what seems unimaginable. Some days, I want to live 

inside the words more than my own black body. 

When the white man shoves me so that he can get on the bus first, 

when he says I am nothing but fits it inside a word, and no one stops him, 

I wear a bruise in the morning where he touched me before I was born. 

My mama’s shame spreads inside me. I’ve heard her say 

there was nothing in a grocery store she could afford. I’ve heard her tell 

the landlord she had nothing to her name. There was nothing I could do 

for the young black woman that disappeared on her way to campus. 

They found her purse and her phone, but nothing led them to her. 

Nobody was there to hold Renisha McBride’s hand 

when she was scared of dying. I worry poems are nothing against it. 

My mama said that if I became a poet or a teacher, I’d make nothing, but 

I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I aimed 

for a window. One student says when he writes, it feels 

like nothing can stop him, and his laugher unlocks a door. He invites me 

into his living.

Cardi B Tells Me About Myself

Dear Frustrated in Flatbush,

Gurl, just go on ahead then.

You waiting for your Daddy

to give you the thumbs up?

Do what you like.

Do what makes your ass happy.

They gon’ call you all makes

and sizes of hoe anyway.

That’s how this thing been set up.

But just cuz they name a thing a thing,

don’t mean it ain’t still named God

in some other language.

 

Your fortune cookie say you poppin’.

You a full spread of good shit.

Your rotten wisdom tooth.

Your pockmarked shoulders.

Those eyelashes ain’t come here

to talk about the weather.

You the hottest day in July

and every fire hydrant in this city

is written out to your name.

 

Whatchu dead fish for?

Whatchu call that stroke?

Drowning? Baptism?

Gurl, you betta lick that

collection plate clean

and stop pretending you just

got off the first canoe from Heaven.

You ain’t nothin but

a big bowl of sweat rice.

You wring your left thigh,

they call you Vintage JuJu.

They like, “This some kind of nightmare?”

And it’s just you, smoking a blunt in the dark,

cackling like rain. Like your grandmama

at her ain’t-shit husband’s funeral.

Bitch, you been a woman.

This ain’t new skin.

Slap some Lycra on it

and call yourself a predicament.

You ain’t just somebody’s meal plan.

Pull back your hair and eat.

 

And look at this muhfukka,

sittin across the table,

lookin like he wanna bite you.

Tonight is tonight and tomorrow

might be somewhere else,

serenading some lesser bitch.

Throw his ass a bone and

stop worrying about your credit score.

 

You stay banging your tambourine

to the wrong hymnal.

I’m sure they had names

and inescapable mouths but

what your ex gotta do with this?

Why you still got his body in your linen closet?

That’s nasty. Bitch, keep your house clean.

You crying over spilled dick. Gurl buh-bye.

Getchu a free refill.

 

You too black for indie film housewife.

You too naked for conversation like this.

Too much soft brutality,

too much bathtub depression.

Why you always got your neck swung open?

Free throat don’t pay for your boy’s sneakers.

You already know I don’t even sigh for free.

Shit, I stroke a shallow strobe light,

inchworm down 4 feet of greasy pole,

and I still don’t feel like any less than a miracle.

Excerpt from "Let America be America Again"

Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

Seeking a home where he himself is free.

 

(America never was America to me.)

 

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—

Let it be that great strong land of love

Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme

That any man be crushed by one above.

 

(It never was America to me.)

 

O, let my land be a land where Liberty

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

But opportunity is real, and life is free,

Equality is in the air we breathe.

 

(There's never been equality for me,

Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

 

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?

And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

 

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,

I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.

I am the red man driven from the land,

I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—

And finding only the same old stupid plan

Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

 

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,

Tangled in that ancient endless chain

Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!

Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!

Of work the men! Of take the pay!

Of owning everything for one's own greed!

 

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.

I am the worker sold to the machine.

I am the Negro, servant to you all.

I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—

Hungry yet today despite the dream.

Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!

I am the man who never got ahead,

The poorest worker bartered through the years.

 

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream

In the Old World while still a serf of kings,

Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,

That even yet its mighty daring sings

In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned

That's made America the land it has become.

O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas

In search of what I meant to be my home—

For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,

And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,

And torn from Black Africa's strand I came

To build a "homeland of the free."

 

The free?

 

Who said the free?  Not me?

Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?

The millions shot down when we strike?

The millions who have nothing for our pay?

For all the dreams we've dreamed

And all the songs we've sung

And all the hopes we've held

And all the flags we've hung,

The millions who have nothing for our pay—

Except the dream that's almost dead today.

 

O, let America be America again—

The land that never has been yet—

And yet must be—the land where every man is free.

The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—

Who made America,

Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,

Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,

Must bring back our mighty dream again.

 

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—

The steel of freedom does not stain.

From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,

We must take back our land again,

America!

 

O, yes,

I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath—

America will be!

Harlem Sweeties

Have you dug the spill

Of Sugar Hill?

Cast your gims

On this sepia thrill:

Brown sugar lassie,

Caramel treat,

Honey-gold baby

Sweet enough to eat.

Peach-skinned girlie,

Coffee and cream,

Chocolate darling

Out of a dream.

Walnut tinted

Or cocoa brown,

Pomegranate-lipped

Pride of the town.

Rich cream-colored

To plum-tinted black,

Feminine sweetness

In Harlem’s no lack.

Glow of the quince

To blush of the rose.

Persimmon bronze

To cinnamon toes.

Blackberry cordial,

Virginia Dare wine—

All those sweet colors

Flavor Harlem of mine!

Walnut or cocoa,

Let me repeat:

Caramel, brown sugar,

A chocolate treat.

Molasses taffy,

Coffee and cream,

Licorice, clove, cinnamon

To a honey-brown dream.

Ginger, wine-gold,

Persimmon, blackberry,

All through the spectrum

Harlem girls vary—

So if you want to know beauty’s

Rainbow-sweet thrill,

Stroll down luscious,

Delicious, fine Sugar Hill.

Impasse

I could tell you

If I wanted to,

What makes me

What I am.

 

But I don't

Really want to –

And you don't

Give a damn.

Excerpt from "How It Feels To Be Colored Me"

But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

 

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me.

Excerpt from "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

Oh to be a pear tree—any tree in bloom!  With Kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world!  She was sixteen.  She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her.  Where were the singing bees for her?  Nothing on the place nor in her grandma's house answered her.  She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road.  Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience.  Waiting for the world to be made.

RuPaul Gives The Black Girl Miracle Her First Lesson in Realness

how can i be a black woman in this fierce world 

and not have needs? i know what it is to be

the crash and current of the sea, honey. to shelter 

my own villain and pronounce its hope. but 

i say, take my love as the good mundane. 

as the extraordinary silence, the fahrenheit.

to be in love with another is to be an open door.

to be in love with yourself is to be the whole damn

house.

A sestina for a black girl who does not know how to braid hair

Your hands have no more worth than tree stumps at harvest.

Don’t sit on my porch while I make myself useful.

Braid secrets in scalps on summer days for my sisters.

Secure every strand of gossip with tight rubber bands of value.

What possessed you to ever grow your nails so long?

How can you have history without braids?

 

A black girl is happiest when rooted to the scalp are braids.

She dances with them whipping down her back like corn in winds of harvest.

Braiding forces our reunions to be like the shifts your mothers work, long.

I find that being surrounded by only your own is more useful.

Gives our mixed blood more value.

Solidifies your place with your race, with your sisters.

 

Your block is a layered cake of your sisters.

Force your lips quiet and sweet and they’ll speak when they need to practice braids.

Your hair length is the only part of you that holds value.

The tallest crop is worshipped at harvest.

So many little hands in your head. You are finally useful.

Your hair is yours, your hair is theirs, your hair is, for a black girl, long.

 

Tender-headed ass won’t last ’round here long.

Cut your nails and use your fists to protect yourself against your sisters.

Somehow mold those hands useful.

You hair won’t get pulled in fights if they are in braids.

Beat out the weak parts of the crops during harvest.

When they are limp and without soul they have value.

 

If you won’t braid or defend yourself what is your value?

Sitting on the porch until dark sweeps in needing to be invited, you’ll be needing long.

When the crop is already used what is its worth after harvest?

You’ll learn that you can’t ever trust those quick to call themselves your sisters.

They yearn for the gold that is your braids.

You hold on your shoulders a coveted item that is useful.

 

Your presence will someday become useful.

One day the rest of your body will stagger under the weight of its value.

Until then, sit in silence in the front with your scalp on fire from the braids.

I promise you won’t need anyone too long.

One day you will love yourself on your own, without the validation of sisters.

No longer a stump wailing for affection at harvest.

Selah

after Margaret Walker’s “For My People”

 

The Lord clings to my hands

             after a night of shouting.

                           The Lord stands on my roof

             & sleeps in my bed.

Sings the darkened, Egun tunnel—

             cooks my food in abundance,

                           though I was once foolish

             & wished for an emptied stomach.

The Lord drapes me with rolls of fat

             & plaits my hair with sanity.

                           Gives me air,

             music from unremembered fever.

This air

 

                                         oh that i may give air to my people

                                         oh interruption of murder

                                         the welcome Selah

 

The Lord is a green, Tubman escape.

             A street buzzing with concern,

                           minds discarding answers.

             Black feet on a centuries-long journey.

The Lord is the dead one scratching my face,

             pinching me in dreams.

                           The screaming of the little girl that I was,

             the rocking of the little girl that I was—

the sweet hush of her healing.

             Her syllables

                           skipping on homesick pink.

             I pray to my God of confused love,

a toe touching blood

             & swimming through Moses-water.

                           A cloth & wise rocking.

             An eventual Passover,

outlined skeletons will sing

             this day of air

                           for my people—

 

                                         oh the roar of God

                                         oh our prophesied walking

Mercy

the war speaks at night

with its lips of shredded children,

with its brow of plastique

and its fighter jet breath,

and then it speaks at daybreak

with the soft slur of money

unfolding leaf upon leaf.

it speaks between the news

programs in the music

of commercials, then sings

in the voices of a national anthem.

it has a dirty coin jingle in its step,

it has a hand of many lost hands,

a palm of missing fingers,

the stump of an arm that it lost

reaching up to heaven, a foot

that digs a trench for its dead.

the war staggers forward,

compelled, inexorable, ticking.

it looks to me

with its one eye of napalm

and one eye of ice,

with its hair of fire

and its nuclear heart,

and yes, it is so human

and so pitiful as it stands there,

waiting for my hand.

it wants to know my answer.

it wants to know how i intend

to show it out of its misery,

and i only want it

to teach me how to kill.

Wishes

I'm tired of pacing the petty round of the ring of the thing I

 know— 

I want to stand on the daylight's edge and see where the sunsets

 go.

 

I want to sail on a swallow's tail and peep through the sky's blue

 glass.

I want to see if the dreams in me shall perish or come to pass.

 

I want to look through the moon's pale crook and gaze on the

 moon-man's face.

I want to keep all the tears I weep and sail to some unknown

 place.

Art vs. Trade

Trade, Trade versus Art,

Brain, Brain versus Heart;

Oh, the earthiness of these hard-hearted times,   

When clinking dollars, and jingling dimes,   

Drown all the finer music of the soul.

 

Life as an Octopus with but this creed,

That all the world was made to serve his greed;

Trade has spread out his mighty myriad claw,

And drawn into his foul polluted maw,

The brightest and the best,   

Well nigh,

Has he drained dry,

The sacred fount of Truth;   

And if, forsooth,

He has left yet some struggling streams from it to go,

He has contaminated so their flow,

That Truth, scarce is it true.

 

Poor Art with struggling gasp,

Lies strangled, dying in his mighty grasp;

He locks his grimy fingers ’bout her snowy throat so tender.   

Is there no power to rescue her, protect, defend her?   

Shall Art be left to perish?

Shall all the images her shrines cherish

Be left to this iconoclast, to vulgar Trade?

 

Oh, that mankind had less of Brain and more of Heart,   

Oh, that the world had less of Trade and more of Art;   

Then would there be less grinding down the poor,   

Then would men learn to love each other more;   

For Trade stalks like a giant through the land,   

Bearing aloft the rich in his high hand,

While down beneath his mighty ponderous tread,   

He crushes those who cry for daily bread.

Sleep

O Sleep, thou kindest minister to man,

Silent distiller of the balm of rest,

How wonderful thy power, when naught else can,

To soothe the torn and sorrow-laden breast!

When bleeding hearts no comforter can find,

When burdened souls droop under weight of woe,

When thought is torture to the troubled mind,

When grief-relieving tears refuse to flow;

'Tis then thou comest on soft-beating wings,

And sweet oblivion's peace from them is shed;

But ah, the old pain that the waking brings!

That lives again so soon as thou art fled!

 

Man, why should thought of death cause thee to weep;

Since death be but an endless, dreamless sleep?

Blue Prelude

Last night, the ceiling above me ached 

with dance. Music dripped down the walls

 

like rain in a broken house. My eyes followed 

the couple's steps from one corner 

 

to the other, pictured the press of two chests

against soft breathing, bodies slipping

 

in and out of candlelight. The hurt 

was exquisite. In my empty bed, I dreamed

 

the record's needle pointed into my back, 

spinning me into no one's song.

A Short Note to My Very Critical and Well-Beloved Friends and Comrades

First they said I was too light

Then they said I was too dark

Then they said I was too different

Then they said I was too much the same

Then they said I was too young

Then they said I was too old

Then they said I was too interracial

Then they said I was too much a nationalist

Then they said I was too silly

Then they said I was too angry

Then they said I was too idealistic

Then they said I was too confusing altogether:

Make up your mind! They said. Are you militant

or sweet? Are you vegetarian or meat? Are you straight

or are you gay?

 

And I said, Hey! It’s not about my mind

These Poems

These poems

they are things that I do

in the dark

reaching for you

whoever you are

and

are you ready?

 

These words

they are stones in the water

running away

 

These skeletal lines

they are desperate arms for my longing and love.

 

I am a stranger

learning to worship the strangers

around me

 

whoever you are

whoever I may become.

micro

actually i don't understand martha, what do you mean 

when you say i speak so well? oh, where did you expect 

me to work mary-beth? i don't remember saying i lived on

the South Side muriel. are you telling me your hair doesn't 

grow thirty inches overnight melanie? if i'm not like the 

other ones, then who am i like melissa? do you follow 

everyone around the store macy? when you say my 

sentences connect do you mean like conjunctions molly? 

well, where else could i have gotten my degree myrtle? 

maggie i don't think i understand, what do you mean by 

urban? are all kids inner city youth or just the Black ones 

marilyn? so missy, beyonce is your spirit animal…explain. 

and why wouldn't you go back after you go Black mallory? 

let me clarify when you say you wish you had skin like 

mine do you mean scarred or sensitive maureen? do they 

not have chicken where you're from magda? mackenzie 

what's your name mean…no i mean back where your 

family's from? i don't think i can be racist, i have a white 

friend miranda, right?

pansexual

yes, I do like pans. and pots. and slow cookers. and woks. 

and crock-pots. and rice makers. and panini presses. and 

waffle irons. and blenders when i am feeling dangerous.

 and juicers. and cold presses. and food processors. and

watercoolers. and espresso makers. and cast-iron skillets. 

god damn i do love a good cast-iron skillet. and 

microwaves. and griddles. and plates. and whatever the 

fuck my partner wants to call themselves.

What It Do Done Red

I love your body. I hate it.

 

but do I hate to love your body

or do I love hating your body

or do I hate “I love your body”

or do I love your body to hate it

or do I love your body since I hate it

or do I hate loving your body because of it?

Sanctuary

The tide pool crumples like a woman

into the smallest version of herself,

bleeding onto whatever touches her.

 

The ocean, I mean, not a woman, filled

with plastic lace, and closer to the vanishing

point, something brown breaks  the surface—human,

 

maybe, a hand or foot or an island

of trash—but no, it’s just a garden of kelp.

A wild life.

 

This is a prayer like the sea

urchin is a prayer, like the sea

star is a prayer, like the otter and cucumber—

 

as if I know what prayer means. 

 

I call this the difficulty of the non-believer,

or, put another way, waking, every morning, without a god. 

 

How to understand, then, what deserves rescue

and what deserves to suffer.

 

Who.

 

Or should I say, what must

be sheltered and what abandoned. 

 

Who.

 

I might ask you to imagine a young girl,

no older than ten but also no younger,

on a field trip to a rescue. Can you

 

see her? She is led to the gates that separate

the wounded sea lions from their home and the class.

How the girl wishes this measure of salvation for herself:

 

to claim her own barking voice, to revel

in her own scent and sleek brown body, her fingers

woven into the cyclone fence.

Diaspora #1

my joy is a dead language.

cherubs sob when i pass them by

as if my fingers carry the wilt

of baby’s breath. i lie in bed & suddenly

i’m closer to my ghosts.

another boy tells me he loves me &

i cannot look him in the eye. another

mother says, “smile, child,” & the clouds

open up to swallow me whole.

 

the last time i loved, the words died in my belly.

the sparks quit next, & then the boy.

i say i cannot carry another day & the shadows

rejoice. i say i’m going to love me today

& i can hear laughter.

 

worry about me. i am not well. a child

has gone missing within me & left

not even detritus. all the things in this world

set to kill me encroach upon

the one smile i can offer a new day.

i have said it once & if i do not say

it again, the tigers clawing the insides

of my brain will never sleep: home is nowhere

when you are a stolen thing. an heirloom of haint

& hate.

Excerpt From Belly Song
  1.  

And I  and I/ must admit

that the sea in you 

            has sung/ to the sea/ in me

and I               and I/ must admit

that the sea in me

         has fallen/ in love

         with the sea in you

because you have made something 

out of the sea

         that nearly swallowed you

 

And this poem

This poem

This poem/ I give / to you.

This poem is a song/I sing/I sing/ to you

from the bottom

        of the sea

                in my belly

 

This poem/is a song/ about FEELINGS

about the Bone of  feeling

about the Stone of feeling

         And the Feather of feeling

 

2. 

This poem

This poem

This poem/ is /

a death / chant

and a prayer for the dead:

              for the young Jackie Robinson.

a moving Blk/warrior who walked

among us

            with a wide/ stride and heavy heels

moving                moving             moving

thru the blood and mud and shit of Vietnam

moving-moving-moving

through the blood and mud and dope of America

             for Jackie/ who was/

 

a song

and a stone

and a Feather of feeling

             now dead

and/ gone/in the month of love

 

This poem

this poem /is / a silver feather

and the sun-gold/ glinting/ green hills breathing

river flowing...

 

3. 

This poem

This poem

This poem/ is for ME- for me

and the days/ that lay/ in the back/ of my mind

when the sea/ rose up/

           to swallow me

and the streets I walked

      were lonely streets

      were stone / cold streets

 

This poem

this poem

This poem /is / for me

           and my woman

           and the yesterdays

when she opened

        to me like a flower

        But I fell on her

        like a stone

I fell on her like a stone...

 

4. 

And now- in my 40th year

          I have come here

to this House of Feelings

to this Singing  Sea

and I    and I / must admit

that the sea in me

          has fallen / in love

with the sea in you

because the sea 

that now sings/ in you

            is the same sea

that nearly swallowed you - 

             and me too.

Beauty is My Revenge

each wig represents a world/one I hope to become a part of/in my line of work femininity exists in a land of fantasy/where songs rival the impact of bombs and dresses are loaded with more artillery than tanks/excuse me if I sound unrealistic/but the world has entitled me to only my dreams/unfortunately the necessity of survival always trumps the longing for escape/reality witnesses me saving tips to a place where my body is more than just your entertainment/one day imma dance to original material/fling back my head and listen to folks reciting my lyrics with abandon/choreographin productions ta my virtuosity/bendin hardwood floors/splittin vocal chords to the soundtrack of my evolution/in my story imma princess/I use garters, satin, duct tape, and oil sheen as my weapons of choice/I go into battle not with a metal suit/but girdled silhouette/those who take me as jest come to dey senses when the spotlight touches me/equipped wif countless facial contortions and arm gesticulations/I undo the memory of your favorite antiquated idol/ocean of hair/mountain of body/I can be reached through only a punctual high-five, organic work bitch, or demurely folded dollar bill/gather around children and let me tell you the story of one who from the bottom of nowhere/built dazzling spectacle from nothing more than wardrobe, imagination, and insanity/once upon a time/there was a queen, no, a goddess, with a penis/and she  lived, happily, ever, after!

Anodyne

I love how it swells

into a temple where it is

held prisoner, where the god

of blame resides. I love

slopes & peaks, the secret

paths that make me selfish.

I love my crooked feet

shaped by vanity & work

shoes made to outlast

belief. The hardness

coupling milk it can't

fashion. I love the lips,

salt & honeycomb on the tongue.

The hair holding off rain

& snow. The white moons

on my fingernails. I love

how everything begs

blood into song & prayer

inside an egg. A ghost

hums through my bones

like Pan's midnight flute

shaping internal laws

beside a troubled river.

I love this body

made to weather the storm

in the brain, raised

out of the deep smell

of fish & water hyacinth,

out of rapture & the first

regret. I love my big hands.

I love it clear down to the soft

quick motor of each breath,

the liver's ten kinds of desire

& the kidney's lust for sugar.

This skin, this sac of dung

& joy, this spleen floating

like a compass needle inside

nighttime, always divining

West Africa's dusty horizon.

I love the birthmark

posed like a fighting cock

on my right shoulder blade.

I love this body, this

solo & ragtime jubilee

behind the left nipple,

because I know I was born

to wear out at least

one hundred angels.

Excerpt from "Momma"

I know everything, I know everything, know myself

I know morality, spirituality, good and bad health

I know fatality might haunt you

I know everything, I know Compton

I know street shit, I know shit that's conscious, I know everything

I know lawyers, advertisement their sponsors

I know wisdom, I know bad religion, I know good karma

I know everything, I know history

I know the universe works mentally

I know the perks of bullshit isn't meant for me

I know everything, I know cars, clothes, hoes and money

I know loyalty, I know respect, I know those that's Ornery

I know everything, the highs the lows the groupies the junkies

I know if I'm generous at heart, I don't need recognition

The way I'm rewarded, well, that's God's decision

I know you know that lines from Compton School District

Just give it to the kids, don't gossip about how it was distributed

I know how people work, I know the price of life

I know how much it's worth, I know what I know and I know it well

Not to ever forget until I realized I didn't know shit

The day I came home

Insha'Allah

I don’t know when it slipped into my speech

that soft word meaning, “if God wills it.”

Insha’Allah I will see you next summer.

The baby will come in spring, insha’Allah.

Insha’Allah this year we will have enough rain.

 

So many plans I’ve laid have unraveled

easily as braids beneath my mother’s quick fingers.

 

Every language must have a word for this. A word

our grandmothers uttered under their breath

as they pinned the whites, soaked in lemon,

hung them to dry in the sun, or peeled potatoes,

dropping the discarded skins into a bowl.

 

Our sons will return next month, insha’Allah.

Insha’Allah this war will end, soon. Insha’Allah

the rice will be enough to last through winter.

 

How lightly we learn to hold hope,

as if it were an animal that could turn around

and bite your hand. And still we carry it

the way a mother would, carefully,

from one day to the next.

Excerpt from "Heavy: An American Memoir"

For the first time in my life, I realized telling the truth was way different from finding the truth, and finding the truth had everything to do with revisiting and rearranging words. Revisiting and rearranging words didn't only require vocabulary; it required will, and maybe courage. Revised word patterns were revised thought patterns. Revised thought patterns shaped memory. I knew, looking at all those words, that memories were there, I just had to rearrange, add, subtract, sit, and sift until I found a way to free the memory.

Summer

Last summer, two discrete young snakes left their skin

on my small porch, two mornings in a row. Being

 

postmodern now, I pretended as if I did not see

them, nor understand what I knew to be circling

 

inside me. Instead, every hour I told my son

to stop with his incessant back-chat. I peeled

 

a banana. And cursed God—His arrogance,

His gall—to still expect our devotion

 

after creating love. And mosquitoes. I showed

my son the papery dead skins so he could

 

know, too, what it feels like when something shows up

at your door—twice—telling you what you already know.

A Litany for Survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline

standing upon the constant edges of decision

crucial and alone

for those of us who cannot indulge

the passing dreams of choice

who love in doorways coming and going

in the hours between dawns

looking inward and outward

at once before and after

seeking a now that can breed

futures

like bread in our children’s mouths

so their dreams will not reflect

the death of ours;

 

For those of us

who were imprinted with fear

like a faint line in the center of our foreheads

learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk

for by this weapon

this illusion of some safety to be found

the heavy-footed hoped to silence us

For all of us

this instant and this triumph

We were never meant to survive.

 

And when the sun rises we are afraid

it might not remain

when the sun sets we are afraid

it might not rise in the morning

when our stomachs are full we are afraid

of indigestion

when our stomachs are empty we are afraid

we may never eat again

when we are loved we are afraid

love will vanish

when we are alone we are afraid

love will never return

and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid

 

So it is better to speak

remembering

we were never meant to survive.

Don't Pretty Me

 

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t pretty me. Don’t pretty me.

Don’t.

Excerpt from "Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela"

I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.

praise song

praise the Hennessy, the brown

shine, the dull burn. praise

the dare, the take it, the no face

you’re supposed to make.

praise the house, its many rooms,

hardwood and butter leather couches;

its richness. praise the rich, their friendship.

praise the friends: the child of the well off,

the child of the well off, the child of  well,

the child of welfare, the child of welfare.

praise the diversity but praise the Hennessy,

and again,           and again.           praise

the new year upon us. praise my stumble,

the shaky eye, the fluid arm, but the steady

hand. praise my hand, the burning it has.

praise the dive into the gut of a friend; the dousing

of my hand in his ribs. praise the softness of skin,

the way it always gives.

 

praise the pulling, the calming down.

 

praise the fuck that, the jump back into all

five of my friends fist first. praise all

five of my friends pinning me into the thick

carpet, knees in my back. praise my back,

how it hurts and raises anyway, how it flips,

how it’s the best friend of my fists.

praise the swinging pool cue, how it whips

air like a disobedient child, praise the disobedient

and all the chilling           i won’t do.

praise the child smile on my face, the fun

plunging a knee into a cheek of my best friend.

praise his blood, the brightness of it, a sun i bask in.

praise my blood, the nose flowing wild with effort,

the mess and taste of it, praise the swallowing,

salt and its sweetness.

 

praise the morning, the impossible blue,

Midwestern  January above us. praise

the blues dulled in my denim by all

the brown. praise the brown shine, the dull

burn.

 

praise all six in my jeans, our salt

and life sitting dry on my thighs

mixing, refusing to wash away.

Pomegranate Means Grenade

The heart trembles like a herd of horses. —Jontae McCrory, age 11

 

Hold a pomegranate in your palm,

imagine ways to split it, think of the breaking

skin as shrapnel. Remember granada

means pomegranate and granada

means grenade because grenade

takes its name from the fruit;

identify war by what it takes away

from fecund orchards. Jontae,

there will always be one like you:

a child who gets the picked over box

with mostly black crayons. One who wonders

what beautiful has to do with beauty, as he darkens

a sun in the corner of every page,

constructs a house from ashen lines,

sketches stick figures lying face down-

I know how often red is the only color

left to reach for. I fear for you.

You are writing a stampede

into my chest, the same anxiety that shudders

me when I push past marines in high school

hallways, moments after video footage

of young men dropping from helicopters

in night vision goggles. I want you to see in the dark

without covering your face and carry verse

as countermeasure to recruitment videos

and remember the cranes buried inside the poems

painted on banners that hung in Tiananmen Square—

remember because Huang Xiang was exiled

for these. Remember because the poet Huang Xiang

was exiled for this: the calligraphy of revolt.

Always know that you will stand nameless

in front of a tank, always know you will not stand

alone, but there will always be those

who would rather see you pull a pin

from a grenade than pull a pen

from your backpack. Jontae,

they are afraid.

Love Elegy in the Chinese Garden, with Koi

Near the entrance, a patch of tall grass.

Near the tall grass, long-stemmed plants;

 

each bending an ear-shaped cone

to the pond’s surface. If you looked closely,

 

you could make out silvery koi

swishing toward the clouded pond’s edge

 

where a boy tugs at his mother’s shirt for a quarter.

To buy fish feed. And watching that boy,

 

as he knelt down to let the koi kiss his palms,

I missed what it was to be so dumb

 

as those koi. I like to think they’re pure,

that that’s why even after the boy’s palms were empty,

 

after he had nothing else to give, they still kissed

his hands. Because who hasn’t done that—

 

loved so intently even after everything

has gone? Loved something that has washed

 

its hands of you? I like to think I’m different now,

that I’m enlightened somehow,

 

but who am I kidding? I know I’m like those koi,

still, with their popping mouths, that would kiss

 

those hands again if given the chance. So dumb.

If We Must Die

If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursèd lot.

If we must die, O let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain; then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

I Am Too Pretty For Some Ugly Laws

I am not suppose to be here

in this body,

here

speaking to you.

My mere presence

of erratic moving limbs

and drooling smile

used to be scrubbed

off the public pavement.

Ugly laws used to be

on many U.S. cities’ law books,

beginning in Chicago in 1867,

stating that “any person who is

diseased, maimed, mutilated,

or in any way deformed

so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object,

or an improper person to be allowed

in or on the streets, highways, thoroughfares,

or public places in this city,

shall not therein or thereon

expose himself to public view,

under the penalty of $1 for each offense.”

Any person who looked like me

was deemed disgusting

and was locked away

from the eyes of the upstanding citizens.

I am too pretty for some Ugly Laws,

Too smooth to be shut in.

Too smart and eclectic

for any box you put me in.

My swagger is too bold

to be swept up in these public streets.

You can stare at me all you want.

No cop will buss in my head

and carry me away to an institution.

No doctor will diagnose me

a helpless invalid with an incurable disease.

No angry mob with clubs and torches

will try to run me out of town.

Whatever you do,

my roots are rigid

like a hundred-year-old tree.

I will stay right here

to glare at your ugly face too.

A Study in Perspective

I.

Looking at you was the hardest thing.

 

Taking off my clothes

While you stayed dressed,

 

II.

Nothing.

 

III.

My body a knife, my shoulder

Its blade, I cut a path before me.

 

Or sometimes I’m an apprentice ghost

Unsure in the art of haunting;

 

No one sees me as I pass.

 

IV.

No one sees me as I pass

Though someone is always looking,

Translating texts of skin and eyes

As: our lives are whole without her. 

 

V.

The intention of the taker doesn’t matter;

Shame lies only in not being had,

Pain in too much having.

 

VI.

If you weren’t older by twenty years,

Superior in race, middle-class

By marriage and sighted,

You couldn’t whisper strip

And then refuse to do the same.

 

We get away with what we can,

And this poet gives what she gives.

 

VII.

Historically, it was a woman’s fate, a slave’s:

Submission to a gaze s/he can’t return.

 

VIII.

I am not you; that’s you and not me.

From a distance the boundaries stay clear,

And fear lies coiled and sleeping in its place.

 

IX.

Up close, I look at you, give you

My body without its mask of blindness,

Allow you to see me, my eyes

As they work at seeing you.

 

And not because, as I have said,

I loved you more, or am most good,

 

Just well-rehearsed as vulnerable. 




Hon or We have both traveled from the other side of some hill, one side of which we may wish we could forget

Love me stupid.

Love me terrible.

And when I am no

mountain but rather

a monsoon of imperfect

thunder love me. When

I am blue in my face

from swallowing myself

yet wearing my best heart

even if my best heart

is a century of hunger

an angry mule breathing

hard or perhaps even

hopeful. A small sun.

Little & bright.

i'm just doing my job

is not an answer or solution or remedy

is not what you say 

is not how you respond

is not professional or kind or noble

is not a prayer or lending a hand

is not a sermon

is not a law

is not an offering

is not altruistic or people-spirited

is not protecting

is not comforting

is not listening or seeing or doing

is not enuff

just doing my job

is not a being

Ode to a Dominican Breakfast

Keep your pancakes, french toast, eggs

benedict, your muffins and scones

 

Keep your waffles and four types of syrup

the way your eggs scramble but never sizzle

 

Nothing more scrumptious than mangu con queso frito

 

The other day I wore a white dress

with a wide skirt and a red sash

 

I danced merengue barefoot on my stoop. I kissed the

Dominican flag, once for each time I remembered a taino word

 

yuca, batata, tanama, ocama, yautia, cacique, juracan,

every bite on the plate, every morsel like a bachata tune

 

This can all be yours, get off the long lines at the brunch spot

Forget the grits and cheesy okra. Ring my doorbell

 

Five ingredients: Olive oil, onions, plantain, white cheese and flour

Excerpt from "Song of Solomon" 1

You think dark is just one color, but it ain’t.  There’s five or six kinds of black.  Some silk, some woolly.  Some just empty.  Some like fingers.  And it don’t stay still.  It moves and changes from one kind of black to another.  Saying something is like pitch black is like saying something is green.  What kind of green?  Green like my bottles?  Green like a grasshopper?  Green like a cucumber, lettuce, or green like the sky is just before it breaks loose to storm?  Well, night black is the same way. May as well be a rainbow.

Excerpt from "Song of Solomon" 2

“Stop picking around the edges of the world.  Take advantage…We live here.  On this planet, in this nation, in this country right here.  Nowhere else!  We got a home in this rock, don’t you see?  Nobody starving in my home; nobody crying in my home, and if I got a home you got one too!  Grab it.  Grab this land!  Take it, hold it, my brothers, make it, my brothers, shake it, squeeze it, turn it, twist it, beat it, kick it, kiss it, whip it, stomp it, dig it, plow it, seed it, reap it, rent it, buy it, sell it, own it, build it, multiply it, and pass it on-can you hear me?  Pass it on!

We Are Not Responsible

We are not responsible for your lost or stolen relatives. 

We cannot guarantee your safety if you disobey our instructions. 

We do not endorse the causes or claims of people begging for handouts. 

We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. 

 

Your ticket does not guarantee that we will honor your reservations. 

In order to facilitate our procedures, please limit your carrying on. 

Before taking off, please extinguish all smoldering resentments. 

 

If you cannot understand English, you will be moved out of the way. 

In the event of a loss, you’d better look out for yourself. 

Your insurance was cancelled because we can no longer handle

your frightful claims. Our handlers lost your luggage and we

are unable to find the key to your legal case. 

 

You were detained for interrogation because you fit the profile. 

You are not presumed to be innocent if the police 

have reason to suspect you are carrying a concealed wallet. 

It’s not our fault you were born wearing a gang color. 

It is not our obligation to inform you of your rights. 

 

Step aside, please, while our officer inspects your bad attitude. 

You have no rights we are bound to respect. 

Please remain calm, or we can’t be held responsible 

for what happens to you.

Variation on a Theme by Elizabeth Bishop

Start with loss. Lose everything. Then lose it all again.

Lose a good woman on a bad day. Find a better woman,

Then lose five friends chasing her. Learn to lose as if

Your life depended on it. Learn that your life depends on it.

Learn it like karate, like riding a bike. Learn to fall

Forever. Lose money, lose time, lose your natural mind.

Get left behind, then learn to leave others. Lose and

Lose again. Measure a father’s coffin against a cousin’s

Crashing T-cells. Kiss your sister through prison glass.

Know why your woman’s not answering her phone.

Lose sleep. Lose religion. Lose your wallet in El Segundo.

Open your window. Listen: the last slow notes

Of a Donny Hathaway song. A child crying. Listen:

A drunk man is cussing out the moon. He sounds like

Your dead uncle, who, before he left, lost a leg

To sugar. Shame. Learn what’s given can be taken;

What can be taken, will. This you can bet on without

Losing. Sure as nightfall and an empty bed. Lose

And lose again. Lose until it’s second nature. Losing

Farther, losing faster. Lean out your open window, listen:

The child is laughing now. No, it’s the drunk man again

In the street, losing his voice, suffering each invisible star.

Woo Woo Roll Deep

it’s not just me. Be clear,

the whole squad Woo Woo. Kin

stay lifted up in metal clouds. Or

knuckle deep in earth. Talking

about how they periods right

around the corner and what that means

alongside Chani’s latest Mercury read.

Shira can’t wait to tell you

about the dream she had.

Big eyes growing wider at each detail.

Freaked out and charged at the spirit’s hooks

deep in her brain’s knowing signal.

It all connected. Courtney paints

one wall miss-my-daddy red

in every new home she stays in.

Morgan say she wants to find love

this year, keeps a rose quartz between

her tits. Gio the 3rd grade teacher

in Bed-Stuy use to end her emails

‘bet you love could make it better.’

A week after the 314th police killing this

year, Jenna mixes up a tincture of charcoal,

lemon, and lavender in little spray bottles.

Hands them out to us after burgers in Harlem.

Woo Woo. Jozie got her man’s EKGs tatted

on her ring finger. 3 years since he crossed

and you best believe she correct when she

talk about him in the present-tense. Gerloni

keeps a frothy pot of black eyed peas boiling

on News Years day. Marlee staves off the yeast

with a garlic clove in her puss. You can’t tell us

shit. We always down for the miracle.

The regular-as-fuck dawn making brand new

the farm of our hearts. Jessie, the filmmaker

slash jewelry maker slash teaching-artist, dangles

a dried out tea bag above her nose, gapes

intently at this new face of God appearing

right before her like, isn’t this just

the most beautiful thing

you’ve ever seen?

Song 33

I saw a demon on my shoulder, it's lookin' like patriarchy

Like scrubbin' blood off the ceiling and bleachin' another carpet

How my house get haunted?

Why Toyin body don't embody all the life she wanted?

A baby, just nineteen

I know I dream all black

I seen her everything, immortalizin' tweets all caps

They say they found her dead

 

One girl missin', another one go missin'

One girl missin', another

 

But niggas in the back quiet as a church mouse

Basement studio when duty calls to get the verse out

I guess the ego hurt now

It's time to go to work, wow, look at him go

He really 'bout to write about me when the world is in smokes?

When it's people in trees?

When George was beggin' for his mother, saying he couldn't breathe

You thought to write about me?

 

One girl missin', another one go missin'

One girl missin', another one

 

Yo, but little did I know all my readin' would be a bother

It's trans women bein' murdered and this is all he can offer?

And this is all y'all receive?

Distracting from the convo with organizers

They talkin' abolishin' the police

And this the new world order

We democratizin' Amazon, we burn down borders

This a new vanguard, this a new vanguard

I'm the new vanguard

Hoodie

A gray hoodie will not protect my son 

from rain, from the New England cold.

 

I see the partial eclipse of his face

as his head sinks into the half-dark

 

and shades his eyes. Even in our 

quiet suburb with its unlocked doors, 

 

I fear for his safety—the darkest child

on our street in the empire of blocks.

 

Sometimes I don’t know who he is anymore 

traveling the back roads between boy and man.

 

He strides a deep stride, pounds a basketball 

into wet pavement. Will he take his shot 

 

or is he waiting for the open-mouthed 

orange rim to take a chance on him? I sing 

 

his name to the night, ask for safe passage 

from this borrowed body into the next   

 

and wonder who could mistake him 

for anything but good.

Twerk Villanelle

for Valentine

 

my girl positioned for a twerk session —

            knees bent, hands below the thigh, tongue out, head

turned to look at her body’s precession.

 

she in tune. breath in. breasts hang. hips freshen.

            she slow-wine. pulse waistline to a beat bled

for her, un-guilt the knees for the session.

 

fair form of vertebrae- backbone blessing,

            her pop-in innate. her pop-out self-bred,

head locked into her holied procession.

 

dance is proof she loves herself, no questions —

            no music required, no crowd needed.

she arched into a gateway, protecting —

 

this dance is proof she loves me, no guessing.

            a bronx bedroom, we hip-to-hip threaded.

she turn to me, tranced by her possessing.

 

she coils herself to, calls forth a legend —

            round bodied booty, bounce a praise ballad.

she break hold, turn whole in a twerk session.

body charmed, spell-bent, toward procession.

Heaven Be a Xanax

When people say how are you

I say good

It is a rule no one can answer

Crying in The Gap by my therapist’s office

or I am still angry with my parents

for traumatizing me

through organized sports

Dangerous and satisfying body of water

I can almost remember heaven

or Still a woman slaughtered for wonder

or Unfortunately misplaced grip

I am not doing a good job waiting

When I get to heaven I’m going

to wear my good bra

so no one can stay mad at me

I won’t have any feelings to hurt just

cheeseburgers on cheeseburgers on

deep colored slumber

Just men offering their golden bodies

And I will take the offering on my tongue

And it will not be a vault

And someone will not invade me

And I will kneel to pray

And I will address the prayer to myself

And I will be allowed

Bad Habits

Petey liked to twist the right end of his mustache when he was

      listening for updates. (Y’all remember Petey. He was always

      on that chuck chill-out tip, but most days he didn’t get

      to choose.)

 

When he ignited a squabble, Chuna would slap his right thigh to

      get every syllable out with a violent scansion.

 

Tommy Lee threw rocks at unsuspecting pigeons.

 

Dwight kept his right hand tucked into the crotch of his Lees,

      steady stunting on some bollo.

 

Angel bit his tongue when he wanted to ask a question.

 

Max counted his money and his money counted him.

 

Brother Lo liked to whistle “All the Things You Are” when it

      rained that Puerto Rico rain.

 

Chee-wa’s nose used to break out into an anxious table of

      contents when he was skied up.

 

Papu would dance if he wanted to make a point. So, imagine

      him saying, Nah, nah, nah, fuck that shit, and poppin’ &

      lockin’ on every word.

 

Nestor hated the words Stop, I was only playing.

 

Loco Tommy blinked three times, convulsively, and then tapped

      the right side of his face against his right shoulder blade.

 

Jujo spit and spit and spit and spit.

 

Popeye had a villainous laugh.

 

Dre loved to crash revivals.

 

Chino Chan did back handsprings from sewer to sewer

      whenever he received good news.

 

Georgie could scratch his ankle straight through a

      graveyard shift.

 

The first thing out of Skinicky’s mouth was always a feeling.

A Little Close Though, If You Can, for What Got Lost Here

            Other than that, all was still — a quiet

so quiet that, as if silence were a kind of spell, and

words the way to break it, they began speaking.

            They spoke of many things:

sunset as a raft leaving the water in braids behind it;

detachment, the soul, obedience;

swans rowing at nightfall across a sky filled with snow;

what did they wish they could see, that they used to see;

to mean no harm, or to not especially, just now, be looking for it;

what would they wish not to see, could they stop seeing;

courage mattering so much less than not spooking easily — 

maybe all nerve is; the search-and-rescue map wildflowers

make of a field in summer; deserving it, versus asking for it,

versus having asked, and been softly turned from.

            They said it would hurt, and it does.

Booker T. and W.E.B

“It seems to me,” said Booker T.,

“It shows a mighty lot of cheek

To study chemistry and Greek

When Mister Charlie needs a hand

To hoe the cotton on his land,

And when Miss Ann looks for a cook,

Why stick your nose inside a book?”

 

“I don’t agree,” said W.E.B.,

“If I should have the drive to seek

Knowledge of chemistry or Greek,

I’ll do it. Charles and Miss can look

Another place for hand or cook.

Some men rejoice in skill of hand,

And some in cultivating land,

But there are others who maintain

The right to cultivate the brain.”

 

“It seems to me,” said Booker T.,

“That all you folks have missed the boat

Who shout about the right to vote,

And spend vain days and sleepless nights

In uproar over civil rights.

Just keep your mouths shut, do not grouse,

But work, and save, and buy a house.”

 

“I don’t agree,” said W.E.B.,

“For what can property avail

If dignity and justice fail.

Unless you help to make the laws,

They’ll steal your house with trumped-up clause.

A rope’s as tight, a fire as hot,

No matter how much cash you’ve got.

Speak soft, and try your little plan,

But as for me, I’ll be a man.”

 

“It seems to me,” said Booker T.—

“I don’t agree,”

Said W.E.B.

Excerpt from "Citizen”

Because white men can’t

police their imagination

black men are dying.

Weather

On a scrap of paper in the archive is written

I have forgotten my umbrella. Turns out

in a pandemic everyone, not just the philosopher,

is without. We scramble in the drought of information

held back by inside traders. Drop by drop. Face

covering? No, yes. Social distancing? Six feet

under for underlying conditions. Black.

Just us and the blues kneeling on a neck

with the full weight of a man in blue.

Eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

In extremis, I can’t breathe gives way

to asphyxiation, to giving up this world,

and then mama, called to, a call

to protest, fire, glass, say their names, say

their names, white silence equals violence,

the violence of again, a militarized police

force teargassing, bullets ricochet, and civil

unrest taking it, burning it down. Whatever

contracts keep us social compel us now

to disorder the disorder. Peace. We’re out

to repair the future. There’s an umbrella

by the door, not for yesterday but for the weather

that’s here. I say weather but I mean

a form of governing that deals out death

and names it living. I say weather but I mean

a November that won’t be held off. This time

nothing, no one forgotten. We are here for the storm

that’s storming because what’s taken matters.

Dear You,

Make no apologies for yourself

Because you are covered by a listening skin

Because every ache you feel is not your own

Because of your mother’s loss

and your father’s rage

Because of how many rivers they’ve crossed

Because you plummet even if you cannot swim

Because of the lynching tree

Because when you enter bookstores

books fall off shelves into your open palms

Because you ask questions of the universe

so the world opens before you like a page of text

Because of those clouds and that murder of crows

Because poets are your wounded idols

Because the truth, even if it hurts is to be cherished and held

Because when people die you believe that they walk with you daily

Because the river has a mouth that speaks their names

Because the river flows with stories

Because you sit on the shore and listen

Because alone is more comforting than together

Because your pen is oceanic

Because you are big-eyed and eyes wide

Because you suffer from what you see and hear

Because you have sinus arrhythmia

your heart is linked to your breath

and your breath is short,

Because asthma is only one of the monkeys on your back

Because your heart is the vehicle you choose to ride this go ’round

Because it can go forward and backwards in time

Because bookstores have always been oracles

Because poetry is your archeological tool

Because you dig and dive

and you trust the ride of journal and journey

even if you don’t always float

Because your heart beats to your breath

Because of this music, you dance raw and wild



Someday I'll Love Roger Reeves

After Frank O'Hara 

 

Until then, let us have our gods and short prayers. Our obligations.

Our thighbone connected to our knee bone.

 

Our dissections and our swans. Our legs gashed

upon a barbwire fence and our heels tucked behind a lover’s knees.

Let us have a stalk of sugarcane to suck

 

and another to tear our backs with what it knows of disaster

and a tadpole’s folly. Let us have mistakes

 

and fish willing to come to a bell rung across a body of water.

Let us have our drawbridges and our moats. Our heavens

no higher than a pile of dried leaves. Let us have irrelevance

 

and a scalpel. A dislocated ankle and three more miles to run.

A plastic bottle to hold nothing but last names and a chill.

 

If none of this will be remembered, then let us keep speaking

with tongues light as screen doors clapping shut

on a child’s fingers. For this is love. To press

 

one frame against another

and when something like a finger is found between this pressing,

 

to press nevertheless. For this is our obligation.

Let us forget our obligations. For this is love.

Let us forget our love. Our eyelids’ need for beginnings

 

and ends and blood. Our coils of hunger

that turn another into dried honey on our hands.

 

And what if this goes on forever—our ours?

Our drafts and fragments? Our blizzards and our cancers?

Then let us. Then, let us hold each other toward heaven

 

and forget that we were once made of flesh,

that this is the fall our gods refuse to clean with fire or water.

Don't Nobody

believe nothing

these days

 

which is why I haven’t

told nobody the story

I’m about to tell you.

 

And truth is

you probably ain’t

gon’ believe it either

gon’ think I’m lying

or I’m losing it,

but I’m telling you,

 

this story is true.

 

It happened to me.

Really.

 

It did.


              It so did.

Public Domain

You catalog by hand, playing librarian in your dead

mother’s house. Try to justify archiving each item:

 

A balanced checkbook. Mothballs. Life Savers

mints. Back copies of the New York Times.

 

Frozen chicken pot pies. The Yellow Pages.

Expired Lorna Doone cookies long expired. Panty hose.

 

A pair of Daniel Green slippers from

Lord & Taylor. Flat Canada Dry ginger ale. 




You find a little girl hiding in Mr. Rogers’ mustard

sweater, sew on and sew forth, threading needles

 

with pubic hairs discovered in the carpet. Surreal

smells. The Pine-Sol dying down in the bathroom.

 

Which was your father’s bad ear? The one that lost

most of its hearing in the war. There is life in the eyes

 

unspoken. Your very pulse a secret algorithm, a soft-

ware designed to track your browsing history. 




An open casket on view for the whole church to see.

Her genetic code made available for live streaming.

 

You copyright the notes in the margins of her Bible.

The intellectual property preserved. Shaky cursive

 

her signature trademark. Upon the fall of a domestic

sphere, a pocketbook is emptied of all its valuables.

 

To become takes a long time. Blue spells are periods of

red where you pause, the body calculating the losses.

Personal Letter No. 3

nothing will keep

us young you know

not young men or

women who spin

their youth on

cool playing sounds.

we are what we

are what we never

think we are.

no more wild geo

graphies of the

flesh. echoes. that

we move in tune

to slower smells.

it is a hard thing

to admit that

sometimes after midnight

i am tired

of it all.

This is Not a Small Voice

This is not a small voice

you hear               this is a large

voice coming out of these cities.

This is the voice of LaTanya.

Kadesha. Shaniqua. This

is the voice of Antoine.

Darryl. Shaquille.

Running over waters

navigating the hallways

of our schools spilling out

on the corners of our cities and

no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.

 

This is not a small love

you hear               this is a large

love, a passion for kissing learning

on its face.

This is a love that crowns the feet with hands

that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails

mends the children,

folds them inside our history where they

toast more than the flesh

where they suck the bones of the alphabet

and spit out closed vowels.

This is a love colored with iron and lace.

This is a love initialed Black Genius.

 

This is not a small voice

you hear.

Selfish

give me a minute to love you

an hour to stare in your face

a moment to praise your nose

your hands, your lips, your eyes

don't say later

don't say tomorrow

because the day's too busy

because the day's too hurried

too demanding

give me a week to hold you

a second to play in your lashes

a night to kiss your forehead

Your back, your feet, your fingers

Don't say you're tired

Don't say your anxious

because the world is calling

because the world is heavy

Ever present

just let me soothe you

let me put you in my mouth and hum sweet tunes

let me calm that ocean

give me a day

give me four and more

to ease and please you

let me take that chip from your shoulder

place it on the nightstand for a while

because you're lonely

and

I am too

Black History

I was wondering about our yesterdays,

and starting digging through the rubble

and to say, at least somebody went

through a hell of a lot of trouble

to make sure that when we looked things up

we wouldn't fair too well

and that we would come up with totally unreliable

portraits of ourselves.

But I compiled what few facts I could,

I mean, such as they are

to see if we could shed a little bit of light

and this is what I got so far:

First, white folks discovered Africa

and they claimed it fair and square.

Cecil Rhodes couldn't have been robbing nobody

'cause he said there was nobody there.

White folks brought all the civilization,

since there wasn't none around.

They said 'how could these folks be civilized

when you never see nobody writing nothing down?'

And just to prove all their suspicions,

it didn't take too long.

They found out there were whole groups of people

in plain sight

running around with no clothes on. That's right!

The women, the men, the young and old,

righteous white folks covered their eyes.

So no time was spent considering the environment.

Hell no! This here, this just wasn't civilized!

And another way they knew the folks was backwards,

or at least this how we were taught

is that 'unlike the very civilized people of Europe'

these Black groups actually fought!

And yes, there was some 'rather crude implements'

and yes, there was 'primitive art'

and yes they were masters of hunting and fishing

and courtesy came from the heart.

And yes there was medicine, love and religion,

inter-tribal communication by drum.

But no paper and pencils and other utensils

and hell, these folks never even heard of a gun.

So this is why the colonies came

to stabilize the land.

Because The Dark Continent had copper and gold

and the discovers had themselves a plan.

They would 'discover' all the places with promise.

You didn't need no titles or deeds.

You could just appoint people to make everything legal,

to sanction the trickery and greed.

And out in the bushes if the natives got restless

You could call that 'guerilla attack!'

and never have to describe that somebody finally got

wise

and decided they wanted their things back.

But still we are victims of word games,

semantics is always a bitch:

places once called under-developed and 'backwards'

are now called 'mineral rich.'

And still it seems the game goes on

with unity always just out of reach

Because Libya and Egypt used to be in Africa,

but they've been moved to the 'middle east'.

There are examples galore I assure you,

but if interpreting was left up to me

I'd be sure every time folks knew this version wasn't mine

which is why it is called 'His story'.

I Think I'll Call it Morning

I'm gonna take myself a piece of sunshine

And paint it all over my sky

Be no rain..

Be no rain..

 

I'm gonna take the song from every bird

And make em sing it just for me

Bird's got something to teach us all

About being free, yeah

Be no rain..

Be no rain..

 

And I think I'll call it morning

From now on

Why should I survive on sadness?

And tell myself I got to be alone

Why should I subscribe to this world's madness?

Knowing that I've got to live on

Yeah I think I'll call it morning

From now on

 

I'm gonna take myself a piece of sunshine

And paint it all over my sky

Be no rain...

Be no rain...

 

I'm gonna take the song from every bird

And make them sing it just for me

Cause why should I hang my head

Why should I let tears fall from my eyes?

When I've seen everything there is to see

And I know there is no sense in crying

I know there ain't no sense in crying

Yeah I think I'll call it morning

From now on

I'll call it morning from now on, yeah

 

Cause there ain't gonna be no rain

Be no rain

Be no rain

Object Permanence

(for John)

 

We wake as if surprised the other is still there,

each petting the sheet to be sure.

 

How have we managed our way

to this bed—beholden to heat like dawn

 

indebted to light. Though we’re not so self-

important as to think everything

 

has led to this, everything has led to this.

There’s a name for the animal

 

love makes of us—named, I think,

like rain, for the sound it makes.

 

You are the animal after whom other animals

are named. Until there’s none left to laugh,

 

days will start with the same startle

and end with caterpillars gorged on milkweed.

 

O, how we entertain the angels

with our brief animation. O,

 

how I’ll miss you when we’re dead.

Excerpt from "Me Against the World"

With all this extra stressin'

The question I wonder is after death, after my last breath

When will I finally get to rest through this oppression?

They punish the people that's askin' questions

And those that possess steal from the ones without possessions

The message I stress: to make it stop, study your lessons

Don't settle for less, even the genius asks his questions

Be grateful for blessings

Don't ever change, keep your essence

The power is in the people and politics we address

Always do your best, don't let this pressure make you panic

And when you get stranded

And things don't go the way you planned it

Dreamin' of riches, in a position of makin' a difference

Politicians are hypocrites, they don't wanna listen

If I'm insane, it's the fame made a brother change

It wasn't nothin' like the game; it's just me against the world

Preface

A blackstart bathes

in the deep shade of the lagoon,

six toes sinking into mud.

 

There is hope in the past.

 

I am calling out your name

all the time. I am calling

 

with both voices,

night and day.

Ugly

Your daughter is ugly.

She knows loss intimately,

carries whole cities in her belly.

 

As a child, relatives wouldn’t hold her.

She was splintered wood and sea water.

They said she reminded them of the war.

  

On her fifteenth birthday you taught her

how to tie her hair like rope 

and smoke it over burning frankincense.

 

You made her gargle rosewater

and while she coughed, said

macaanto girls like you shouldn’t smell

of lonely or empty.

 

You are her mother.

Why did you not warn her,

hold her like a rotting boat

and tell her that men will not love her

if she is covered in continents,

if her teeth are small colonies,

if her stomach is an island

if her thighs are borders?

 

What man wants to lay down 

and watch the world burn 

in his bedroom? 

 

Your daughter’s face is a small riot,

her hands are a civil war,

a refugee camp behind each ear,

a body littered with ugly things

 

but God, 

doesn’t she wear

the world well.

because there should be love

there should be love poems. iridescent odes to skies

and their fluid, mutating blues, their restless canvases

 

where we cast the adjectives—brilliant, dark, deep, clear—  

that name our daily moods, ringing doubt and delight,

confusion and cheer, the brave lines we spit to spin

 

out the re-newed story of two lives winding themselves 

into joy. there should be lyrics that hit all the notes—do,

 mi, sol—in the scale, that belt them out as they arrive—

passionate, pushy, pulsating, unpredictable—breathing 

 

the whole—billie, abbey, ella—range of the torchlit heart. 

there should be love poems, star-sprung stanzas that try 

 

out the rough ballad of two lives lifting themselves 

higher together than apart: that sing it: breaking relief.

each waking, that the hours are ours to share: certainty

 

that silver-lines even cumulonimbus ire: the your hand

in my hand in your hand of right now, and from now on.

Riding in Cars With Black Girls or Pantoum for Police

Head nod magic trance

Ocean blue afro magic

Blow smoke signals back

Survival wasn’t optional: past.

 

Ocean blue Afro magic

Bounces to bass anthem

Survival wasn’t optional past

This moment of succulence.

 

Bounces to bass anthem

Speakers dictate hip wind

This moment of succulence.

Truth seeping out bone.

 

Speakers dictate hip wind

Survival wasn’t optional past

This moment of succulence.

Head nod magic trance.

little prayer

let ruin end here

 

let him find honey

where there was once a slaughter

 

let him enter the lion’s cage

& find a field of lilacs

 

let this be the healing

& if not   let it be

rose

we were kindergarten sweethearts. you asked me. i said yes. you were a white girl & not pretty. i liked the shape of your face. it looked like a ball with hair. you were red & puffy. we broke because we were five. it mattered until it didn’t. how big a fact at six seven even nine. i treated you like poop. everyone treated you the same. you were the girl with the puffy red face. you were mean. so we were mean. or we were so you. we were nine ten eleven. we were so small & evil. you & barbara sliverman wrapped a jump rope around my neck after i called you a puffy-faced something.   when we learned the word bitch, we called you bitch. someone was always willing to remind you of your shit. we were shit, ugly & needed to direct attention everywhere else. girls fought you. said you got around. made you untouchable & easy. you screamed. i remember you always at the top of your lungs. you were kind to your friends. no one liked any of y’all. it was dangerous to be your friend. you were red & dated. your folks shit broke. you were a girl & everyone wanted you to know you were a white frog. if you wished we all watched the last of our water turn to feathers or prayed our children are born with teeth where eyes should be, your prayer was fair. you deserved to parade us through a city of grandmas, smacking our faces, beating us with belts & shoes & whistling branches, pinching ears. if you saw me & stabbed me in the foot i’d understand. we were so mean. i was the bastard fuck in the mob of bastard fucks. the easily swayed torch. o rose, saint of getting roasted in the hallway, warrior queen of the misfits, my love, how did you survive us? if this finds you if there is still a you to find if you know this is about you if you read poems if you take breath into & out of your lungs & find this in a book or in the blue aurora of your phone & this is you: at times i wake in the middle of the night & think

we killed that girl.

Biting Back

Children do not grow up

as much as they grow away.

My son’s eyes are stones - flat, brown, fireless,

with no visible openings in or out.

His voice, when he cares to try it on,

hovers one-note in that killing place

where even the blues fidget.

Tight syllables, half spoken, half spat,

greet me with the warmth

of glint-tipped arrows. The air around him

hurts my chest, grows too cold to nourish,

and he stares past me to the open door of his room,

anxious for my patented stumbled retreat.

 

My fingers used to brush bits of the world

From his kinked hair,

but he moved beyond that mother shine

to whispered “fucks” on the telephone,

to the sweet mysteries of scalloped buttons

dotting the maps of young girls,

to the warped, frustrating truths of algebra,

to anything but me. Ancient, annoying apparatus,

I have unfortunately retained the ability to warm meat,

to open cans, to clean clothing

that has yellowed and stiffened.

I spit money when squeezed,

don’t try to dance in front of his friends,

and know that rap music cannot be stopped.

For these brief flashes of cool, I am tolerated in spurts.

 

At night I lay in my husband’s arms

and he tells me that these are things that happen,

that the world will tilt again

and our son will return, unannounced, as he was -

goofy and clinging, clever with words, stupefied by rockets.

And I dream on that.

One summer after camp,

twelve inches taller than the summer before,

my child grinned and said,

“Maybe a tree bit me.”

 

We laughed,

not knowing that was to be his last uttered innocence.

Only months later, eyes would narrow and doors would slam.

Now he is scowl, facial hair, knots of muscle. He is

Pimp, homey, pistol. He is man smell, grimy fingers,

red eyes, rolling dice. He is street, smoke, cocked cannon.

And I sit on his bare mattress after he’s left for school,

wonder at the simple jumble of this motherless world,

look for clues that some gumpopping teenage girl

now wears my face. Full of breastmilk and finger songs,

I stumble the street staring at other children,

gulping my dose of their giggles,

and cursing the trees for their teeth.

Prayer

For Yarrow, and all that is bitter.

For the days I rehearse your departure.

For the Yes that is a lie

And the Yes that is not a lie. For You.

For the rivers I will never see. For Yams.

For the way it resembles a woman.

For my mother. For the words

That would not exist without it:

For Yesterday. For not Yet.

For Youth. For Yogurt and the mornings

You feed me. For Yearning. 

For what is Yours and not mine.

For the words I repeat in the dark

And the lord that is always listening.

Shout Out

Here’s to the best words

In the right place

At the perfect time to the human mind

Blown-up and refined.

To long conversations and the

Philosophical ramifications of a beautiful day.

To the twelve-steppers

At the thirteenth step

May they never forget

The first step.

To the increase, to the decrease

To the do, to the do

To the did to the did

To the do to the did

To the done done

To the lonely.

To the brokenhearted.

To the new, blue haiku.

Here’s to all or nothing at all.

Here’s to the sick, and the shut-in.

Here’s to the was you been to the is you in

To what’s deep and deep to what’s down and down

To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.

To the crazy

The lazy

The bored

The ignored

The beginners

The sinners

The losers

The winners.

To the smooth

And the cool

And even to the fools.

Here’s to your ex-best-friend.

To the rule-benders and the repeat offenders.

To the lovers and the troublers

The engaging

The enraging

To the healers and the feelers

And the fixers and the tricksters

To a star falling from a dream.

To a dream, when you know what it means.

To the bottom

To the root

To the base, uh, boom!

To the drum

Here’s to the was you been to the is you in

To what’s deep and deep to what’s down and down

To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.

Here’s to somebody within the sound of your voice this morning.

Here’s to somebody who can’t be within the sound of your voice tonight.

To a low-cholesterol pig sandwich smothered in swine without the pork.

To a light buzz in your head

And a soundtrack in your mind

Going on and on and on and on and on like a good time.

Here’s to promises that break by themselves

Here’s to the breaks with great promise.

To people who don’t wait in the car when you tell them to wait in the car.

Here’s to what you forgot and who you forgot.

Here’s to the unforgettable.

Here’s to the was you been to the is you in

To what’s deep and deep to what’s down and down

To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.

Here’s to the hip-hoppers

The don’t stoppers

Heads nodding in the digital glow

Of their beloved studios.

To the incredible indelible impressions made by the gaze as you gaze in the faces of strangers.

To yourself you ask: Could this be God? Straight up!

Or is it a mask?

Here’s to the tribe of the hyper-cyber

Trippin’ at the virtual-most outpost at the edge on the tip

Believin’ that what they hear is the mothership

Drawing near.

Here’s to the was you been, to the is you in

To what’s deep and deep, to what’s down and down

To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.

The Sticking Point

...the sea deep as love. 

-Mary Ruefle, “Rain Effect”​

 

Because the blue and green of it

 are content.

 

Because I’ve opened my mouth

 to the salt and it tastes almost

 

like midnight or a wound. Because

 I will fall faster and lighter and

 

farther where there is no barrier reef

 but that’s not the sticking point.

 

See how sea enjoys a spirit of silence

 in its eels, its starfish. Because.

 

One poet dared to write the sea cold as

 love and knew I would ponder what

 

she meant: how the choices are few

 for all who ignore women in revolution.

Imperatives for Carrying On in the Aftermath

Do not hang your head or clench your fists

when even your friend, after hearing the story,

says: My mother would never put up with that.

 

Fight the urge to rattle off statistics: that,

more often, a woman who chooses to leave

is then murdered. The hundredth time

 

your father says, But she hated violence,

why would she marry a guy like that?

don’t waste your breath explaining, again,

 

how abusers wait, are patient, that they

don’t beat you on the first date, sometimes

not even the first few years of a marriage.

 

Keep an impassive face whenever you hear

Stand by Your Man, and let go your rage

when you recall those words were advice

 

given your mother. Try to forget the first

trial, before she was dead, when the charge

was only attempted murder; don’t belabor

 

the thinking or the sentence that allowed

her ex-husband’s release a year later, or

the juror who said, It’s a domestic issue—

 

they should work it out themselves. Just

breathe when, after you read your poems

about grief, a woman asks: Do you think

 

your mother was weak for men? Learn

to ignore subtext. Imagine a thought-

cloud above your head, dark and heavy

 

with the words you cannot say; let silence

rain down. Remember you were told

by your famous professor, that you should

 

write about something else, unburden

yourself of the death of your mother and

just pour your heart out in the poems.

 

Ask yourself what’s in your heart, that

reliquary—blood locket and seed-bed—and

contend with what it means, the folk-saying

 

you learned from a Korean poet in Seoul:

that one does not bury the mother’s body

in the ground but in the chest, or—like you—

 

you carry her corpse on your back.

On Evaluating Black Privilege

Black privilege is the hung elephant swinging in the room,

Is the memory of a slave ship,

Praying for the Alzheimer’s to kick in.

 

Black privilege is me having already memorized my nephew’s eulogy,

My brother’s eulogy,

My father’s eulogy,

My unconceived child’s eulogy.

Black privilege is me thinking my sister’s name,

Safe from that list.

 

Black privilege is me pretending like I know Trayvon Martin on a first name basis,

Is me using a dead boy’s name to win a poetry slam,

Is me carrying a mouthful of other people’s skeletons

To use at my own convenience.

 

Black privilege is the concrete that holds my breath better than my lungs do.

 

Black privilege is always having to be the strong one,

Is having a crowbar for a spine,

Is fighting even when you have no more blood to give,

Even when your bones carried you,

Even when your mother prayed for you,

Even after they prepared your body for the funeral.

 

Black privilege is being so unique that not even God will look like you.

Black privilege is still being the first person in line to meet Him.

 

Black privilege is having to have the same sense of humor as Jesus.

Remember how he smiled on the cross?

The same way Malcolm X laughed at his bullet.

 

And there I go again,

Asserting my Black privilege,

Using a dead man’s name without his permission.

 

Black privilege is a myth,

Is a joke,

Is a punchline,

Is the time a teacher asks a little boy

What he wanted to be when he grew up

And he said, “Alive.”

Is the way she laughed when she said,

“There’s no college for that.”

 

And it’s tirin’, you know?

For everything about my skin to be a metaphor,

For everything Black to be pun intended,

To be death intended.

 

Black privilege is the applause at the end of this poem,

Is me giving you a dead boy’s body and you giving me a ten,

Is me being okay with that.

 

And I tried writing a love poem the other day,

But my fingers wouldn’t move.

My skin started to blister like it didn’t trust me anymore,

Like it thought I was trading in this noose for a pearl necklace.

 

Some days I’m afraid to look into the mirror

For fear that a bullet George Zimmermaned its way into my chest while I was asleep.

The breath in my mouth is weapon enough to scare a courtroom.

I’ll be lucky if I’m alive to make it to the stand.

For some people,

Their trials live longer than they do.

 

Black privilege is knowing that if I die,

At least Al Sharpton will come to my funeral.

At least Al Sharpton will mason jar my mother’s tears,

Remind us that the only thing we are worthy of is our death. We are judged by the number of people it takes to carry our caskets.

 

Black privilege is me thinking that’s enough,

Is me thinking this poem is enough.

 

Black privilege is this.

Is this breath in my mouth right now,

Is me standing right here with a crowd full of witnesses to my heartbeat.

Love After Love

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other's welcome,

 

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

 

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

 

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

Be Nobody's Darling

Be nobody’s darling;

Be an outcast.

Take the contradictions

Of your life

And wrap around

You like a shawl,

To parry stones

To keep you warm.

Watch the people succumb

To madness

With ample cheer;

Let them look askance at you

And you askance reply.

Be an outcast;

Be pleased to walk alone

(Uncool)

Or line the crowded

River beds

With other impetuous

Fools.

 

Make a merry gathering

On the bank

Where thousands perished

For brave hurt words

They said.

 

But be nobody’s darling;

Be an outcast.

Qualified to live

Among your dead.

Excerpt from "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens"

Black women are called, in the folklore that so aptly identifies one's status in society, "the mule of the world," because we have been handed the burdens that everyone else—everyone else—refused to carry. We have also been called "Matriarchs," "Superwomen," and "Mean and Evil Bitches." Not to mention "Castraters" and "Sapphire's Mama." When we have pleaded for understanding, our character has been distorted; when we have asked for simple caring, we have been handed empty inspirational appellations, then stuck in the farthest corner. When we have asked for love, we have been given children. In short, even out plainer gifts, our labors of fidelity and love, have been knocked down our throats. To be an artist and a black woman, even today, lowers our status in many respects, rather than raises it: and yet, artists we will be.

How Poems Are Made / A Discredited View

Letting go

In order to hold one

I gradually understand

How poems are made.

 

There is a place the fear must go.

There is a place the choice must go.

There is a place the loss must go.

The leftover love.

The love that spills out

Of the too full cup

And runs and hides

Its too full self

In shame.

 

I gradually comprehend

How poems are made.

To the upbeat flight of memories.

The flagged beats of the running

Heart.

 

I understand how poems are made.

They are the tears

That season the smile.

The stiff-neck laughter

That crowds the throat.

The leftover love.

I know how poems are made.

 

There is a place the loss must go.

There is a place the gain must go.

The leftover love.

On Being Brought from Africa to America

Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,

Taught my benighted soul to understand

That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:

Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.

Some view our sable race with scornful eye,

"Their colour is a diabolic die."

Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,

May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.

Know Thy Lonely Girl

You crawled inside me

and the wind was kept from you. 

We were never swept away. 

I was a different kind of hiding place.

Who was who among the stripes and lepers? 

The moment I stepped from the pack, you felt

the bandage rip off. Easily spotted now, I walk

steady across the kitchen floor, and lighting the pilot

is the god who reveals herself with this kind of privacy. 

Call this the place where thy lonely girl is found.

I confirm for her she is true. My eyes survive her gaze— 

even in the company of others, we’re just archipelago. 

Lonely Girl has no drama for spilled milk. 

She is not a dandelion, and there’s no need

to punish loneliness. Those who try to break her

from solitude use her as practice for their own girl— 

they cannot muscle the pain they’ve walled within her, 

can’t stomach the girl they have and so greedy-to-the-bone— 

their mouths shaped into that vowel for sucking and their

canines point at the girl who is new to your flame.

Indigo On

…and you don’t stop

and you don’t stop

and you don’t…

 

stop letting cities define you

confine you to that which is cement and brick

we are not a hard peoples

our domes have been crowned

with the likes of steeples

that which is our being soars with the eagles

and the Jonathan Livingston Seagulls

yes, I got wings

you got wings

alas God chillun got wings.

 

So lets widen the circumference of our nest

And escape this urban incubator

 

The wind plays the world like an instrument

Blows through trees like flutes

But trees don’t grow in cement

And as heart beats bring percussion

Fallen trees bring repercussions

 

Cities play upon our souls like broken drums

We drum the essence of creation from city slums

But city slums mute our drums

And our drums become hum drum

‘cause city slums

have never been where our drums are from

just the place where our daughters and sons

become offbeat heartbeats

slaves to city streets

 

where hearts get broken

when heart beats stop

broken heartbeats become breakbeats

for niggas to rhyme on top

but they rhyme about nothing

 

they don’t have nothing to rhyme about

‘cause they’ve never seen the moon

your styles can’t be universal

if your not intoned with the wind.

Joy #1

If I cried about all the painful things I have the right to cry about today

 

 

I would kill myself.

 

 

But the last time I spoke to my nephew

I promised him

I’d be on that plane to visit in 2 months.

I have 49 days left.

49 days to stay alive

to demand joy in my life in all of the dying parts.

 

And I know if I choose that

I’ll get to 50.

And I know choosing ain’t always a choice.

Like, sometimes, your bones are just heavy.

And, all the time, waking up saying, I’m happy

Won’t make the assault go away

 

Won’t bring the body back

 

It may not clear the protest signs

 

Which is why I say it, all the time.

 

The pain is an intruder I wake up to.

I speak to her so that she knows I have a voice.

I do not call her a stranger.

I call her a me I have already survived.

 

I do not call her day 51

breakfast on the east coast

a table of healing, kindred faces

a cot on the floor of a home that housed me dirty

a return flight back to my almost clean

a phone call with nephew

a reminder that joy is always up

on its way.

reading

I am not my sister.

Words from the books curl around each other

make little sense

until

I read them again

and again, the story

settling into memory.  Too slow

the teacher says.

Read faster.

Too babyish, the teacher says.

Read older.

But I don’t want to read faster or older or

any way else that might

make the story disappear too quickly

from where it’s settling

inside my brain,

slowly becoming

a part of me.

A story I will remember

long after I’ve read it for the second,

third, tenth,

hundredth time.

Excerpt from "The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley"

I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. I certainly wasn’t seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students. My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America. Not long ago, an English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions. One was, “What’s your alma mater?” I told him, “Books.” You will never catch me with a free fifteen minutes in which I’m not studying something I feel might be able to help the black man.

Ode to the Midwest

The country I come from is called the Midwest —Bob Dylan

 

I want to be doused

in cheese

 

& fried. I want

to wander

 

the aisles, my heart’s

supermarket stocked high

 

as cholesterol. I want to die

wearing a sweatsuit—

 

I want to live

forever in a Christmas sweater,

 

a teddy bear nursing

off the front. I want to write

 

a check in the express lane.

I want to scrape

 

my driveway clean

 

myself, early, before

anyone’s awake

 

that’ll put em to shame—

I want to see what the sun

 

sees before it tells

the snow to go. I want to be

 

the only black person I know.

 

I want to throw

out my back & not

 

complain about it.

I wanta drive

 

two blocks. Why walk—

 

I want love, n stuff—



I want to cut

my sutures myself.

 

I want to jog

down to the river

 

& make it my bed—

 

I want to walk

its muddy banks

 

& make me a withdrawal.

 

I tried jumping in,

found it frozen—

 

I’ll go home, I guess,

to my rooms where the moon

 

changes & shines

like television.