I realized everything I was doing must have been Death. It was Christmas or Labor Day—a holiday—and every time you turned on the radio they said something like “four million” or “going to die”
I’m trying on egos, [a justification for the planet’s continuance]. Oh
hello transgressor, you’ve come to collect utilitarian debts, humbling
narrative space. Give me a condition and wheatgrass,
I his body is disintegrating, I his body is ossification. Death my habit
radius, yeah yeah.
I his body can’t refuse this summons. I can’t get out
this fucking room. Tell me something different about torture
Tell me about the lightness my mother told me to pick the one i love the best
how it signals everything I ever wish to believe true just holy on my ship.
I jump all over this house. this is it [what i thought is thought only,
nothing more deceptive than]:
I his body keeps thinking someone will come along, touch me.
As like human. Or lima bean.
I’m cradling you to my breast, you are looking out. A little wooden lion you & Peter carve
on Bluff Street is quieting across your cheekbone. Not at all like the kind of terror found
in sleep, on trembling grounds.
It is yesterday now. I have not had a chance to dance in this century. Tonight I shall kill someone,
a condition to remember Sunday mornings.
To think of lives as repetitions [rather than singular serial incarnations]. To understand your
death is as exacerbating as trying to figure out why as schoolchildren in mid-nineteen-sixties
we performed reflexive motions:
cutting out lace snowflakes, reading Dick and Jane search for their missing mittens,
And this too, fiction. The book I would want to right.
The restored fallen, heroic.
Did you expect a different grace from the world? Or upon exit?
I’m working on “tough.” They think I am already. All ready.
Who is the dead person? Is “I’m sorry” real to a dead person?
Browning grass. My hands on this table. A contentious century.
A place to pay rent. Redemptive moments.
Am I now the dead person?
Dead person, dead person, will you partake in my persimmon feast?
The body inside the body astounds, confesses sins of the funhouse.
I too have admired the people of this planet.
Their frilly, ordered intellects.
The use they’ve made of cardamom,
radiation as well. How they’ve pasteurized milk, loaned surnames to stars,
captured tribes, diseases, streets, and ideas too.
From A Toast in the House of Friends by Akilah Oliver. Copyright © 2009 by Akilah Oliver. Used by permission of Coffee House Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Far as we could tell, Mark dreamt
of weightlessness & little else,
an entire career built upon
& lesser men. Though he
never deployed this exact
imagery in a public speech
or more casual tête-à-tête
over hot fries & Powerade,
the dream was well- known
throughout the jailhouse
beige middle school hallways
we bolted through.
Mark wears ankle weights
every day because that
is what ballers do
when they are serious,
& Mark is very serious
when it comes to
the business of giving
out buckets as a kind
of spiritual practice, ascension
under control, an outlet
pass flying language-like
across the length
of the court, Mark
catching the so-worn
sphere in his dominant
to the left without what most
would call thought, soaring
like an invocation
to the cylinder & the crowd
leaps right along with him.
Hands aloft in awe
of the boy who must have
some falcon in his blood
-line somewhere, the sheer
eloquence of his movement
enough to make them forget
whatever heaviness like a second
skeleton held them flush to the ground
that day, whatever slight or malice
born in silence by necessity
simply melts, falls like a man
made of flowers to the floor.
When we closed our eyes
that year we all saw the same
fecund emptiness staring
back, imagined all we could
hammer our bodies into by way
of pure repetition: sprinting
to the bodega for Peanut Chews
before the cheese bus could leave
us behind, toting little
brothers all the way up
past the third flight
with no break for breath,
jumping rope with the girls by
the hydrant by the hardware
store at least once a week,
two-pound silver bricks
strapped to each leg,
tucked as if contraband
or some secret knowledge
into the lips of our lucky
socks, all that kept us
From Owed (Penguin Poets, 2020). Copyright © 2020 Joshua Bennett. Used with permission of the author and Penguin Random House