for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III

after the after-party empties both of its fists
the seven of us gather like a murder
of crows to loose bread around the last

table the dining hall has left. It’s late,
and vegetarian pizza is the best thing
the joint has going but we stay, mostly

to partake in what we would never call
gossip in front of our uncles but most
certainly is: who left with how many

numbers, top ten worst life choices
made that weekend, how Lauryn’s cobalt
dress lassoed every human breath in the room.

Night unspools. Our attention plants
its feet in late Clinton-era Everywhere
& we sing of what we yearned for back then,

back home, what mocked our small,
stupefied hands like a white stove
or the promise of beauty.

Consensus lands on Super Soakers.
B.B. guns. All manner of false weaponry
we were barred from as boys

because of a mother’s fear, her suspicion
that the rules of a given game might shift
& gunfire would be our only warning,

the policeman’s voice an aftershock, his first mouth
having already made its claim. Even now, no one
among us calls this a kind of theft, which is to say,

the term never launches like a hex from our tongues,
but even if it did, somehow, rise & alight the air, if everything
we missed during the years we grew tired trying not to die

found its own body right then, right there in the center
of campus, what difference could it make now
that we have already mastered the rule book, the protocol

we learned before we learned to slow
dance, or smooth talk, or scream
the lyrics of a favorite song in a group

of two or more & not feel ashamed
of all the noise a black body can make
while it is still living

From Owed (Penguin Poets, 2020). Copyright © 2020 Joshua Bennett. Used with permission of the author and Penguin Random House.

I’m not sure why but it’s taken forever for me to write this poem

I hope to remember all the pieces

But I’ve developed a new condition

One that’s come from age/I can no longer take the shit I once did

And there’s a part of my condition that comes from gentrification

And cell phone use

Living amidst tech zombies

And their general fear and hatred of People of color

My condition is called sidewalk rage

Kind of like road rage

But comes when walking down the street and there’s some millennial

Who has just moved into the neighborhood

who thinks its theirs

a little grown ass white girl who in broad daylight feels a dark presence

walking behind her

it’s me/minding my own business and she gets so panicked and paralyzed

she stops walking and holds her purse

with my new condition I yell

If you don’t want to live around Black people, get the fuck out of the neighborhood!

She is shocked.

Or in another scenario:

You see random white women on their phones

Standing in a doorway completely blocking it

Because you know only they exist

And you’re like HELLO, HELLO

Yes, all these years I thought I was still a small town girl and then suddenly

with my sidewalk rage, I’m a bonafide New Yorker

like the ones you’ve seen on bicycles banging on the hood of a taxi cab

that tries to cut them off

My person with sidewalk rage is a character of their own

Where once I was silent

Recently I confronted a man who was blocking my path/crossing the street

He had his head down and almost rammed into me

I sucked my teeth loud and shouted HELLO HELLO

He was so angry I’d confronted him he yelled, “Suck my dick”

I started to yell something profane but I stopped myself

And then I was in the subway/going downstairs and a white man rammed into me

on the phone,

My sidewalk rage kicked in and thought for a second to sneak behind him

And kick him down the stairs,

That’s my sidewalk rage/ I stopped myself.

I don’t know who this person is in me who would never speak up for herself

Was always soft and vulnerable

Who’s been at various times pickpocketed, blasphemed/body slammed,

ransacked, ridiculed

Who now has a voice

Who now lets rage show

Who couldn’t express herself

Has now become all angles and sharp edges.

From Funeral Diva (City Lights Books, 2020). This poem originally appeared in The Brooklyn Rail. Used with the permission of City Lights Books and the author. 

for Ermias Asghedom (Nipsey Hussle)

the streetlights still weep / a
marathon of clouds hold firm / the agony
continues / we’re all an assembly of
sad / I’ve been writing dismal testimony
since before the last person I love
was gunned down / been trying
to write something about happy
since before my great-aunt’s knees
decided to hang themselves / there are more
funerals to be had / I tell the sky this
and hope the sun shows because all this
bleakness might move me to throw
it into a well / do you know

what it is to make a wish knowing
it’s a waste since before you even made it /
there was a guy back home who sold roses
out his trunk / he’d wait outside clubs
and ask if anyone wanted to buy a pretty lady
a keepsake / something to ensure
she remembers you / something sweet
to accompany the drinks you’d gifted
all night / I remember watching gangsters
buy roses like lottery tickets / chase women
all the way to their cars / remind them
which drink came from which pocket /
plead to be remembered /

do you know badgers make their homes
underground / while we celebrate the day
they wait around for dark / all the men I love
are nocturnal / stumbling vampires
in search of midnight roses / one night I stumbled
out a juke and couldn’t find my car /
haunted neighborhood blocks for what seemed
like leap years / I grew gray
that night / started tracking my own footprints
in snow / do you know what it is to track
oneself / it requires divine patience / just when
you think you’ve found your target
it moves / the way a sober shadow might /
the way an almost granted wish does / the way
a badger moves once the last person on earth
places her head to the pillow / it peeks
above ground to let the bobcats know
it isn’t dead

Copyright © 2020 by Derrick Harriell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

notice now pictures of awful things on top our head
the freight that barricades this view, how enough
how the law batter down the dogged tide we make
the world shoring its dark scars between seasons
as though to hold it together only by a flame
is here a voice to please enough the blunt
borderlessness of this grief turning our heads to rubble
the lunacy of nothing so limning as death in the streets
in these vibrating hours where the corners talk back
need I simply run my tongue along the granite sky and live

to know how lost the millionth life somewhere today
the swift shape of roads new names combust, the sum
of anthems flooding the world with the eye’s sudden and narrow
saltwater and streets ziplined with screams at the pitch of cooking pots
then tear gas, then pepper spray, then militarized lies unzipping
body bags, oh, our many many there, our alive and just born,
and that is how to say let’s fuck it up, we the beat and we the loud
tuning forks and the help arriving empty-handed
propping the hot news of new times on our head

days like these pleat whatever the hollow year must offer
between the not-yet-dead and those just waking up
it will not be the vanished thing that we remember
it will be what we exchanged close to midnight
like smugglers high-wiring the city, hoarding the thoughts
of ours we interrupted midway to discovering the velocity
of the burning world below
of our language in the lateness of our stuck and reckless love

where the forces who claim they love us
level our lives to crust—the centuries-wide dance
of swapped shackles for knees
their batons and miscellany
thrown at our whole lives demanding our mothers
raise from their separate rooms, separate graves, today
to save who and me? I open the book to a naked page
where nothing clatter my heart, what head
what teeth cling to broadside, roll alias after
alias with a pen at their dull tribunes and shrines
imagine our heirlooms of shot nerves make a life
given to placards and synergies and elegies, but more

last things: where letters here where snow in May
where the millennium unstitches the quartered earth
in June, how many today to the viral fire
the frosted rich and their forts, but not
the fulsome rage of my people unpeaced
mute boots with somber looks appear
a fearsome autumn ending spring, though we still hear

I dare not sing

another song to dig a hole this time for the lineages
of magnolias where the offspring bring a hand to cover
our mouth, our heaping lives, who sit who burn who drop
three feet to the tar, who eat and demolish the thing
that takes our head, the thing that is no more
the place that never was except a burning learned

just once and not again when the darker working’s race

Copyright © 2020 by Canisia Lubrin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.