with some help from Ahmad
I wanna write lyrical, but all I got is magical.
My book needs a poem talkin bout I remember when
Something more autobiographical
Mi familia wanted to assimilate, nothing radical,
Each month was a struggle to pay our rent
With food stamps, so dust collects on the magical.
Each month it got a little less civil
Isolation is a learned defense
When all you wanna do is write lyrical.
None of us escaped being a criminal
Of the state, institutionalized when
They found out all we had was magical.
White room is white room, it’s all statistical—
Our calendars were divided by Sundays spent
In visiting hours. Cold metal chairs deny the lyrical.
I keep my genes in the sharp light of the celestial.
My history writes itself in sheets across my veins.
My parents believed in prayer, I believed in magical
Well, at least I believed in curses, biblical
Or not, I believed in sharp fists,
Beat myself into lyrical.
But we were each born into this, anger so cosmical
Or so I thought, I wore ten chokers and a chain
Couldn’t see any significance, anger is magical.
Fists to scissors to drugs to pills to fists again
Did you know a poem can be both mythical and archeological?
I ignore the cataphysical, and I anoint my own clavicle.
Copyright © 2021 by Suzi F. Garcia. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
my girl positioned for a twerk session-
knees bent, hands below the thigh, tongue out, head
turned to look at her body’s precession.
she in tune. breath in. breasts hang. hips freshen.
she slow-wine. pulse waistline to a beat bled
for her, un-guilt the knees for the session.
fair saint of vertebrae- backbone blessing,
her pop- in innate. her pop- out self- bred,
head locked into her holied procession.
dance is proof she loves herself, no questions-
no music required, no crowd needed.
she arched into a gateway, protecting-
this dance is proof she loves me, no guessing.
a bronx bedroom, we hip-to-hip threaded.
she turn to me, tranced by her possessin’.
she coils herself to, calls forth a legend-
round bodied booty, bounce a praise ballad.
she break hold, turn whole in a twerk session.
body charmed, spell-bent, toward progressing.
From i shimmer sometimes, too (Button Poetry, 2019) Copyright © 2019 by Porsha Olayiwola. Used with permission of the author.
that one time in the ’98 NBA finals & in praise of one man’s hand on the waist of another’s & in praise of the ways we guide our ships to the shore of some brief & gilded mercy I touch my fingers to the hips of this vast & immovable grief & push once more & who is to say really how much weight was behind Jordan’s palm on that night in Utah & on that same night one year earlier the paramedics pulled my drowning mother from the sheets where she slept & they said it must have felt like a whole hand was pushing down on her lungs & I spent the whole summer holding my breath in bed until the small black spots danced on the ceiling & I am sorry that there is no way to describe this that is not about agony or that is not about someone being torn from the perch of their comfort & on the same night a year before my mother died Jordan wept on the floor of the United Center locker room after winning another title because it was father’s day & his father went to sleep on the side of a road in ’93 & woke up a ghost & there is no moment worth falling to our knees & galloping towards like the one that sings our dead into the architecture & so yes for a moment in 1998 Michael Jordan made what space he could on the path between him & his father’s small & breathing grace
& so yes,
there is an ocean between us the length of my arm & I have built nothing for you that can survive it
& from here I am close enough to be seen but not close enough to be cherished
& from here, I can see every possible ending before we even touch.
Copyright © 2019 by Hanif Abdurraqib. From A Fortune For Your Disaster (Tin House Books, 2019). Used with permission of the author and Tin House Books.
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.
We are underwater off the coast of Belize.
The water is lit up even though it’s dark
as if there are illuminated seashells
scattered on the ocean floor.
We’re not wearing oxygen tanks,
yet staying underwater for long stretches.
We are looking for the body of the boy
we lost. Each year he grows a little older.
Last December you opened his knapsack
and stuck in a plastic box of carrots.
Even though we’re underwater, we hear
a song playing over a policeman’s radio.
He comes to the shoreline to park
and eat midnight sandwiches, his headlights
fanning out across the harbor.
And I hold you close, apple of my closed eye,
red dance of my opened fist.
Copyright @ 2014 by Jeffrey McDaniel. Used with permission of the author.
On the red-eye from Seattle, a two-year-old
in the seat behind me screeches
his miniature guts out. Instead of dreaming
of stuffing a wad of duct tape into his mouth,
I envy him, how he lets his pain spurt
into the open. I wish I could drill
a pipeline into the fields of ache, tap
a howl. How long would I need to sob
before the lady beside me dropped
her fashion rag, dipped a palm
into the puddle of me? How many
whimpers before another passenger
joined in? Soon the stewardess
hunched over the drink cart, the pilot
gushing into the controls, the entire plane:
an arrow of grief quivering through the sky.
Copyright © 2008 by Jeffrey McDaniel. From The Endarkenment (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.