When I was twelve, I shoplifted a pair
Of basketball shoes. We could not afford
Them otherwise. But when I tied them on,
I found that I couldn’t hit a shot.
When the ball clanked off the rim, I felt
Only guilt, guilt, guilt. O, immoral shoes!
O, kicks made of paranoia and rue!
Distraught but unwilling to get caught
Or confess, I threw those cursed Nikes
Into the river and hoped that was good
Enough for God. I played that season
In supermarket tennis shoes that felt
The same as playing in bare feet.
O, torn skin! O, bloody heels and toes!
O, twisted ankles! O, blisters the size
Of dimes and quarters! Finally, after
I couldn’t take the pain anymore, I told
My father what I had done. He wasn’t angry.
He wept out of shame. Then he cradled
And rocked me and called me his Little
Basketball Jesus. He told me that every cry
Of pain was part of the hoops sonata.
Then he laughed and bandaged my wounds—
My Indian Boy Poverty Basketball Stigmata.
Copyright © 2015 Sherman Alexie. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner.
There are gods
is offered praise
& still cannot
its colors are blue
& black, a cross-
hatch of bruise
like my son’s
like lungs, excised
or autopsied, splayed
open on a cold table
or left in the street
for hours to stew.
is a gun—
is a gun, skin
a shiny pistol,
a demon, a barrel
not to bear but bare. Don’t
into the wrong
is not dark
but a red siren
who will not blow
breath into your open
like a heart. Because
I can see
I believe in you, god
of police brutality—
of corn liquor
& late fertility, of birth
pain & blood
like the sun setting,
dispersing its giant
crowd of light.
Copyright © 2018 by Kevin Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
—Cincinnati, Ohio, 1987
Rage is the language of men,
layers of particulates fused.
Rage is the wine
father pours to the ground
for men whose time has passed. Rage
is gripped in the hands
like the neck of a broom held tight. Rage
gets stuck in the throat, suppressed.
Rage is a promise kept.
Sjohnna McCray, "Portrait of My Father as a Young Black Man" from Rapture. Copyright © 2016 by Sjohnna McCray. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.