Even the most kindhearted white woman,
Dragging herself through traffic with her nails
On the wheel & her head in a chamber of black
Modern American music may begin, almost
Carelessly, to breathe n-words. Yes, even the most
Bespectacled hallucination cruising the lanes
Of America may find her tongue curls inward,
Entangling her windpipe, her vents, toes & pedals
When she drives alone. Even the most made up
Layers of persona in a two- or four-door vehicle
Sealed in a fountain of bass & black boys
Chanting n-words may begin to chant inwardly
Softly before she can catch herself. Of course,
After that, what is inward, is absorbed.

Copyright © 2017 Terrance Hayes. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Fall 2017.

acrostic golden shovel

America is loving me to death, loving me to death slowly, and I
Mainly try not to be disappeared here, knowing she won’t pledge
Even tolerance in return. Dear God, I can’t offer allegiance.
Right now, 400 years ago, far into the future―it’s difficult to
Ignore or forgive how despised I am and have been in the
Centuries I’ve been here—despised in the design of the flag
And in the fealty it demands (lest I be made an example of).
In America there’s one winning story—no adaptations. The
Story imagines a noble, grand progress where we’re all united.
Like truths are as self-evident as the Declaration states.
Or like they would be if not for detractors like me, the ranks of
Vagabonds existing to point out what’s rotten in America,
Insisting her gains come at a cost, reminding her who pays, and
Negating wild notions of exceptionalism—adding ugly facts to
God’s-favorite-nation mythology. Look, victors get spoils; I know the
Memories of the vanquished fade away. I hear the enduring republic,
Erect and proud, asking through ravenous teeth Who do you riot for?
Tamir? Sandra? Medgar? George? Breonna? Elijah? Philando? Eric? Which
One? Like it can’t be all of them. Like it can’t be the entirety of it:
Destroyed brown bodies, dismantled homes, so demolition stands
Even as my fidelity falls, as it must. She erases my reason too, allows one
Answer to her only loyalty test: yes or no, Michael, do you love this nation?
Then hates me for saying I can’t, for not burying myself under
Her fables where we’re one, indivisible, free, just, under God, her God.

 

Copyright © 2020 by Michael Kleber-Diggs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.