The train came with a police officer
on his gun. He shifts his weight
against the door. A flash back loads
the first time a service weapon was pulled in my face;
the second time it made me lay on the ground;
the third time it put my hands in the air; the fourth time
it pushed me against a wall; the fifth time
it told me it was just doing its job; the sixth time
it kicked my feet apart; the seventh time
it followed me home; the eighth time it grabbed my shirt collar.
Read the signs: it’s illegal to move
Read the signs; my body knows
how Klan-rally a cop’s gun feels at eye level.
The ninth time the barrel cocked its head;
the tenth time, it told me it missed me
the last time; it said, burning black bodies is a tradition
it was raised on; the eleventh time the safety and trigger argued
through a range of black fiction. I could’ve been
any made-up one of us: Ricky or Wee-Bey
Mad Max or Tray; we all look the same under the right racism
anyway; the twelfth time it dared me to swing; the thirteenth time
I thought about it; the fourteenth time, I almost did it;
the fifteenth time, there were no cellphones; the sixteenth time
just covered badges; the seventeenth time
it searched me for the broken laws it thought I was;
the eighteenth time I assumed the position without anything
Copyright © 2020 by Jive Poetic. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
My brother was a dark-skinned boy
with a sweet tooth, a smart mouth,
and a wicked thirst. At seventeen,
when I left him for America, his voice
was staticked with approaching adulthood,
he ate everything in the house, grew
what felt like an inch a day, and wore
his favorite shirt until mom disappeared it.
Tonight I’m grateful he slaked his thirst
in another country, far from this place
where a black boy’s being calls like crosshairs
to conscienceless men with guns and conviction.
I remember my brother’s ashy knees
and legs, how many errands he ran on them
up and down roads belonging to no one
and every one. And I’m grateful
he was a boy in a country of black boys,
in the time of walks to the store
on Aunty Marge’s corner to buy contraband
sweeties and sweetdrinks with change
snuck from mom’s handbag or dad’s wallet—
how that was a black boy’s biggest transgression,
and so far from fatal it feels an un-American dream.
Tonight, I think of my brother
as a black boy’s lifeless body spins me
into something like prayer—a keening
for the boy who went down the road, then
went down fighting, then went down dead.
My brother was a boy in the time of fistfights
he couldn’t win and that couldn’t stop
him slinging his weapon tongue anyway,
was a boy who went down fighting,
and got back up wearing his black eye
like a trophy. My brother who got up,
who grew up, who got to keep growing.
Tonight I am mourning the black boys
who are not my brother and who are
my brothers. I am mourning the boys
who walk the wrong roads, which is any road
in America. Tonight I am mourning
the death warrant hate has made of their skin—
black and bursting with such ordinary
hungers and thirsts, such abundant frailty,
such constellations of possibility, our boys
who might become men if this world spared them,
if it could see them whole—boys, men, brothers—human.
Copyright © 2020 by Lauren K. Alleyne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
You are in the black car burning beneath the highway
And rising above it—not as smoke
But what causes it to rise. Hey, Black Child,
You are the fire at the end of your elders’
Weeping, fire against the blur of horse, hoof,
Stick, stone, several plagues including time.
Chrysalis hanging on the bough of this night
And the burning world: Burn, Baby, burn.
Anvil and iron be thy name, yea though ye may
Walk among the harnessed heat and huntsmen
Who bear their masters’ hunger for paradise
In your rabbit-death, in the beheading of your ghost.
You are the healing snake in the heather
Bursting forth from your humps of sleep.
In the morning, your tongue moves along the earth
Naming hawk sky; rabbit run; your tongue,
Poison to the filthy democracy, to the gold-
Domed capitols where the ‘Guard in their grub-
Worm-colored uniforms cling to the blades of grass—
Worm on the leaf, worm in the dust, worm,
Worm made of rust: sing it with me,
Dragon of Insurmountable Beauty.
Black Child, laugh at the men with their hoofs
and borrowed muscle, their long and short guns,
The worm of their faces, their casket ass-
Embling of the afternoon, leftover leaves
From last year’s autumn scraping across their boots;
Laugh, laugh at their assassins on the roofs
(For the time of the assassin is also the time of hysterical laughter).
Black Child, you are the walking-on-of-water
Without the need of an approving master.
You are in a beautiful language.
You are what lies beyond this kingdom
And the next and the next and fire. Fire, Black Child.
Copyright © 2020 by Roger Reeves. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 16, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.