You and your friend stood 
on the corner of the liquor store
as I left Champa Garden, 

takeout in hand, on the phone 
with Ashley who said, 
That was your tough voice.

I never heard your tough voice before
I gave you boys a quick nod, 
walked E 21st past dark houses. 

Before I could reach the lights 
on Park, you criss-crossed 
your hands around me,

like a friend and I’d hoped 
that you were Seng, 
the boy I’d kissed on First Friday 

in October. He paid for my lunch 
at that restaurant, split the leftovers. 
But that was a long time ago 

and we hadn’t spoken since, 
so I dropped to my knees 
to loosen myself from your grip, 

my back to the ground, I kicked 
and screamed but nobody 
in the neighborhood heard me, 

only Ashley on the other line, 
in Birmingham, where they say 
How are you? to strangers 

not what I said in my tough voice
but what I last texted Seng, 
no response. You didn’t get on top, 

you hovered. My elbows banged 
the sidewalk. I threw 
the takeout at you and saw 

your face. Young. More scared 
of me than I was of you. 
Hands on my ankles, I thought 

you’d take me or rape me. 
Instead you acted like a man 
who slipped out of my bed

and promised to call: 
You said nothing. 
Not even what you wanted.

Copyright © 2020 by Monica Sok. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

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 laughter unlocks a door. He invites me 
into his living.

Copyright © 2020 by Krysten Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

EyeAmBic performs “Good Man” at Winthrop University.

So the other day i was talking to my sister
When all of a sudden she tells me
“You know a good man is hard to find”
That in this world full of scrubs and snakes
It's hard for a woman to find her prince.
A man worthy of her time.
She says that all the good men are either taken or gay
And half the the ones that are taken
Are still probably gay.

I just laugh and say “sis I’m sorry to tell you this
But there’s no such thing as a good man”
She looked at my kinda crazy like
“I helped raise your little black self,
You better be a good man”.
Look its a lie. An illusion.
Something someone else made up
To make you feel better about who we truly are.
Because honestly there’s nothing good about any of us.

See from the day we’re born
we’re trained to be hunters and gatherers.
Taught to treat you like prey, while setting traps with our teeth.
Turning our smiles into funhouse mirrors
That make you see something that truly isn’t there.
See we knew how to call you “hoes before we learned how to read.

Told you we’d rather see you wash the dishes than make the Dean’s list.
Forced you to play house when we could have
Been paying you some attention.
We were not born to be righteous.
The world never showed us how to worship the
God in you, So we prey on you instead of pray for you.
We betray you.
Speak in the language of Judas.
Hide serpents in our blood stream, castrate the Eve from our ribs
While this Adam’s apple chokes on our manhood.

The truth is that most men have a canine complex.
We call you a female dog, turn you doggy style,
Live in a dog house and we love chasing cats,
Cause its nothing but the dog in us.
See around here we love to make it rain.
Watch the precipitation drown your spirit
When we swim inside of you.
Tell you to bust it open while we bust down your self esteem.
Turned you from a queen to a video vixen.
From a universal constellation to a world star.
We have sliced the Coretta out of your conscience.
Screwed the Sojourner out of your truth.
Assassinated the Assata from your symphony,
Detonated your destiny with our weapons of mass destruction.

Cause ya’ll it is hard to be a good man
When you are raised to have such bad intentions.
When our fathers left before they signed the birth certificate.
When we saw men Rihanna and Tina Turner your face
Into a walking punchline.
When we were taught how to prey
Before we learned how to pray.

And I wish I could apologize for them,
But ladies I can’t because I am them.
We are all them.
But there’s a few of us who know
that while we may never be good men,
We’re damn sure gonna die trying.

Copyright © 2018 Angelo Geter. Used with permission of the poet. 

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.

From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.