The hoop is not metal, but a pair of outstretched arms,
God’s arms, joined at the fingers. And God is saying

throw it to me. It’s not a ball anymore. It’s an orange prayer
I’m offering with all four chambers. And the other players—

the Pollack of limbs, flashing hands and teeth—
are just temptations, obstacles between me and the Lord’s light.

Once during an interview I slipped, I didn’t pray well tonight,
and the reporter looked at me, the same one who’d called me

a baller of destiny, and said you mean play, right? Of course,
I nodded. Don’t misunderstand—I’m no reverend

of the flesh. Priests embarrass me. A real priest
wouldn’t put on that robe, wouldn’t need the public

affirmation. A real priest works in disguise, leads
by example, preaches with his feet. Yes, Jesus walked on water,

but how about a staircase of air? And when the clock
is down to its final ticks, I rise up and over the palms

of a nonbeliever—the whole world watching, thinking
it can’t be done—I let the faith roll off my fingertips, the ball

drunk with backspin, a whole stadium of people holding
the same breath simultaneously, the net flying up like a curtain,

the lord’s truth visible for an instant, converting nonbelievers
by the bushel, who will swear for years they’ve witnessed a miracle.

Copyright © 2015 Jeffrey McDaniel. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

lately, when asked how are you, i
respond with a name no longer living

Rekia, Jamar, Sandra

i am alive by luck at this point. i wonder
often: if the gun that will unmake me
is yet made, what white birth

will bury me, how many bullets, like a
flock of blue jays, will come carry my black
to its final bed, which photo will be used

to water down my blood. today i did
not die and there is no god or law to
thank. the bullet missed my head

and landed in another. today, i passed
a mirror and did not see a body, instead
a suggestion, a debate, a blank

post-it note there looking back. i
haven't enough room to both rage and
weep. i go to cry and each tear turns

to steam. I say I matter and a ghost
white hand appears over my mouth

"what the dead know by heart" by Donte Collins. Copyright © 2016 by Donte Collins. Used with permission of the author.

If you sit a few feet away
from this hand fan that once advertised
Amos Moses Barber Shop in New Orleans,
or if you hold it under a dimly glowing light
in a darkened, half-empty room,

            all you see are eighteen black boys,

their moon-shaped heads
tilting in slightly different directions,
hair trimmed low or nearly bald,
and foreheads bulging
like summer-blooming bulbs.

Their faces tell nothing
            of what they feel and see,

                          what men they will become,
            and what they don’t know
            of days they have yet to live,

when eyes that look at them will shut,
and they will be unseen, untaught,
passed by, forgotten, called other names,
or arrested, handcuffed, and jailed
for crimes they didn’t commit,

or maybe they will vanish
in the night inside an alley, a forest
or a river, or be left to dangle
            and drip from the branch of a tree,

and like clouds of smoke,
their brown skin and charred dreams
            will eclipse the rays beaming
            toward the feet of their children.

Inside brightly-lit, crowded rooms
built of race-etched stone walls
that gird and divide their country,
these boys are the faces of all black men.

Copyright © 2019 by John Warner Smith. This poem originally appeared in Quiddity. Used with the permission of the author.

the gone did not go so that we’d endure
plucking grapes from the potato salad
we did not stretch Frankie Beverly’s voice
like a tent across this humble meadow
of amber folk sipping gold sun through skin
rejoicing over their continued breath
just for you to invite anyone in
able to pause the bloody legacy
and distract your eyes with a flimsy act
you break all the unwritten covenants
forged in the saved language of unmarked graves
those called to eat are those who starved with us
and not those whose mouths still water
when watching the grill’s flame lick Uncle’s arm

Copyright © 2019 by Rasheed Copeland. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I started kindergarten that fall you went off to Guyana.
Granny cut off my dreadlocks. She knew how to press

and curl, ponytail, and cornrow but palm roll
locks till the roots stiffened with beeswax,

glistens like licorice, she didn’t know.
For that matter, no one in the Projects knew

what to do with hair left natural, left
unparted and wild—they were afraid to touch

that unmothered part of themselves. Each snip
made each one alive and each one dead.

And if you said goodbye, it was an honest whisper,
short and fine in your throat.

She cut my hair like a boy’s
who hadn’t been to the barber for a month,

and I sat at the cafeteria table alone for weeks.
They couldn’t make sense of me, my classmates

with their gender-proper hairstyles. I didn’t
want anything to do with franks & beans,

those pucks of grilled meat. I waited at lunchtime
for peanut butter and jelly and was hesitant to eat

bread that wasn’t our color. It was hard
not hearing your voice each morning,

throughout the day. And unwilling to correct them
when they said my name wrong, I gave into

the Sizzlean; the fried chicken crunched
between my teeth, I could’ve bitten both of your hands

for leaving me here, each finger for the gunshots that rang
the night, the footsteps running on the roof, the gravel mashed

deeper and deeper into my sleep. Flocks of butterflies
broke my skin and I was shatter where I stood,

a whole constellation of wondering if I could throw
myself to the sky, coat it with urgent wishes

you’d see that I missed you, that the barter was unfair,
that you mistook me for sheep.

from Hurrah's Nest (Visual Artists Collective, 2012) by Arisa White. Copyright © 2012 by Arisa White. Used with permission of the author.