Blood and Bones

In California, someone is found hanging
from a tree, and no one knows why;

in my anger, I forget to explain
to our white neighbor, why it matters
that he’s black,

if only she knew
the luxury of not having to worry
whether her life mattered or not–

*

The first time I learned
about the color of my skin
I spent months
crossing a border
where my kind was not welcomed;

the first time I was othered
I was still in the womb
breaking in my naming–

*

In California, a man is found hanging
from a tree, and no one knows why;

someone said,
            it must have been a suicide,

what country is this
where suicide becomes the hopeful thing–

I want to talk about this,
I say to my husband,

do you know what this means?

I have run out of ways
of telling him that he, too, is a black, black man
living in a white, white world

but his body knows
our bodies always know–

*

In California, a black man is found hanging
from a tree, and no one knows why;

when they hear the news, someone asks
what kind of tree,

what country is this
where life is not life if it inhabits a black body
where we have to march in the streets
and get beaten, gassed, hunted down

so someone, anyone, can see this,
this us we see, this us we are, this humanness.

*

I am filled with a quiet furor. What happens
when the body is marked before it is born,
what happens to it
when it is filled with grief
what happens
when no one sees it as such
what happens
to black bodies riddled with war
what war is this
that continues to kill, kill, kill.

*

In California, a black man is found hanging
from a tree, and someone knows why;

we want to say many things
but none seem to get through;

our mother’s grief
is too great to contain us,
too deep to keep us safe

what do you call a country
that kills its people
and calls itself free,

what freedom is this
that has us running
that holds us hostage
that invades our every being
that hunts our children
that takes our fathers
that murders, murders, murders

Stop–
            listen to this:

In California, a black man is found hanging
from a tree, do you know why?

Does it matter
what kind of tree it was, what kind of earth
housed the roots of such tree,

does it matter
whether the man was in his early twenties
with glimmering black skin
and dancing dreadlocks

would you feel better
if it was a suicide

would it be better
if you never heard about this

do you find yourself thinking,
who would do such a thing,

do you find yourself breaking
completely split open
and parts of you erupting out,

did you wonder
about his mother
about her grief
about his beloveds

did you tell yourself
something nice
to forget this hanging body

did you will it away
what else did you do
to let yourself forget
as you did with all the others
did you tell yourself
I would never–but wait, wait:
did you hear:

in California, a black man is found hanging
from a tree, and you know why;

there is nothing more to say
no further reasoning you need to do
no way out of this,

listen closely:

a black man
is found hanging
from a tree

I know you must like trees
these tall muscular giants

housing small fruits,
breathing, living things,

I know you must think
this is a horrific thing
that has happened to a black man

but how many trees
have housed black bodies
how many were complicit
in our collective dying,

how quick are we to forget
the marred history of this land
built on the blood and bones
of our ancestors

how many more
will need to die
until you see, see, see

how many more
gunned down, beaten, suffocated
until you hear
our rightful pleading

how much blood
must you have on your hands
before our children
are finally set free,
listen:

a black man
hangs from a tree

a black man
hangs
from a tree

a black man
hanging from a tree,

how dare you try and absolve yourself
from our collective lynching–