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

a disapproval.


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.



Tamir Rice

Sean Bell

Oscar Grant

Treyvon Martin

Eric Garner

Freddie Gray


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,

somebody’s lover.


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

familiar ghosts

that they’re forced to drag

like chains.

University & College Poetry Prizes Page