by Marcus Jamison
Then there are words like stapled wagers
In a perforated book—buy and sign and tear apart—
And come whatever wills all chances
The stub remains --- Audre Lorde
Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew --- Hamlet: Act 1, Scene 2
The first time I was called a nigger
it was silent, only mouthed in heads. I was
nine and it was my first day
in the academically gifted class
The teacher is earnest
when she asked if I was in the wrong room.
I became vapor, sweat dripping from my neck
as the rows of alabaster faces
simultaneously snapped back, eyeing
It was two weeks before I raised my hand.
In the heart of the Brazilian Amazon
the Sateré-Mawé break boys into men
with a moan of horns and bullet ant stings
and I wonder –
is this the ritual for all brown boys?
Their mothers trumpeting
the greatest terror – that some poison
might shoot through the night
and render them ghosts
before their time.
I was thirteen
when my next door neighbor died,
a bullet writhing like an angry ant inside him,
my brother standing a few feet away
from where his best friend lay still.
Take a man
and break his back,
give him a broken home
and a broken vernacular,
a long history of broken promises,
break his legs but force him to walk,
break down his pride
by reminding him he’s broken,
in a broken system
where breaking the rules
is really breaking the rules
when you’re brown
and broke, so stay broke,
only breaking the little bit of
bread that you’re given, or
for the bureaucracy’s approval.
Take a man,
and break his back,
then have the audacity to ask him
why he isn’t whole.
This list of names clouds my mind, growing longer
and more perplexing with the days,
Oh, to peel back this black skin!
A concession not bestowed to me.
White teen: I mean I get it, but I don’t get it. Why’s everything always about race?
Black teen: You know how you have dreams and goals and aspirations and shit?
White teen: Yeah.
Black teen: I have to worry about all of that too – in this body, without getting killed.
I wake up some mornings
and I am not a black man.
I’m a college student,
a brother, a son,
an underachiever, a decent writer,
a father, a dreamer,
But then, a white lady at an ATM
clutches too tightly at the clasps
of her purse, or the news reminds me yet again
that there is still a war.
My blackness clings like frightened children.
My blackness confounds like whitewashed history.
My blackness stings like a racial slur.
It pains me
that something so beautiful
can ever invoke shame.
If heaven is a real place
maybe it’s a place where young brown boys
have finally learned
how to not be targets,
can safely choose
to not be guns,
can don unmitigated smiles, and laugh
from the core of unruffled bellies
no longer reminded of
the hells they’ve witnessed
or the cycle of
that they’re forced to drag