I choose Rhythm,
the beginning as motion,
black Funk shaping itself
in the time before time,
dark, glorious and nimble as a sperm
sparkling its way into the greatest of grooves,
conjuring worlds from dust and storm and primordial soup.

I accept the Funk as my holy savior,
Funk so high you can’t get over it,
so wide you can’t get around it,
ubiquitous Funk that envelopes all creatures great and small,
quickens nerve endings and the white-hot
hearts of stars.

I believe in Rhythm rippling each feather on a sparrow’s back
and glittering in every grain of sand,
I am faithful to Funk as irresistible twitch, heart skip
and backbone slip,
the whole Funk and nothing but the Funk
sliding electrically into exuberant noise.
I hear the cosmos swinging
in the startled whines of newborns,
the husky blare of tenor horns,
lambs bleating and lions roaring,
a fanfare of tambourines and glory.

This is what I know:
Rhythm resounds as a blessing of the body,
the wonder and hurt of being:
the wet delight of a tongue on a thigh
fear inching icily along a spine
the sudden surging urge to holler
the twinge that tells your knees it’s going to rain
the throb of centuries behind and before us

I embrace Rhythm as color and chorus,
the bright orange bloom of connection,
the mahogany lure of succulent loins
the black-and-tan rhapsody of our clasping hands.

I whirl to the beat of the omnipotent Hum;
diastole, systole, automatic,
borderless. Bigger and bigger still:
Bigger than love,
Bigger than desire or adoration.
Bigger than begging and contemplation.
Bigger than wailing and chanting and the slit throats of roosters.
For which praise is useless.
For which gratitude might as well be whispered.
For which motion is meaning enough.

Funk lives in us, begetting light as bright as music
unfolding into dear lovely day
and bushes ablaze in
Rhythm. Until it begins again.

Copyright © 2020 by Jabari Asim. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 6, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I ask a student how I can help her. Nothing is on her paper.
It’s been that way for thirty-five minutes. She has a headache. 
She asks to leave early. Maybe I asked the wrong question. 
I’ve always been dumb with questions. When I hurt, 
I too have a hard time accepting advice or gentleness.
I owe for an education that hurt, and collectors call my mama’s house. 
I do nothing about my unpaid bills as if that will help. 
I do nothing about the mold on my ceiling, and it spreads. 
I do nothing about the cat’s litter box, and she pisses on my new bath mat. 
Nothing isn’t an absence. Silence isn’t nothing. I told a woman I loved her, 
and she never talked to me again. I told my mama a man hurt me,
and her hard silence told me to keep my story to myself. 
Nothing is full of something, a mass that grows where you cut at it. 
I’ve lost three aunts when white doctors told them the thing they felt 
was nothing. My aunt said nothing when it clawed at her breathing.
I sat in a room while it killed her. I am afraid when nothing keeps me 
in bed for days. I imagine what my beautiful aunts are becoming 
underground, and I cry for them in my sleep where no one can see. 
Nothing is in my bedroom, but I smell my aunt’s perfume 
and wake to my name called from nowhere. I never looked 
into a sky and said it was empty. Maybe that’s why I imagine a god 
up there to fill what seems unimaginable. Some days, I want to live 
inside the words more than my own black body. 
When the white man shoves me so that he can get on the bus first, 
when he says I am nothing but fits it inside a word, and no one stops him, 
I wear a bruise in the morning where he touched me before I was born. 
My mama’s shame spreads inside me. I’ve heard her say 
there was nothing in a grocery store she could afford. I’ve heard her tell 
the landlord she had nothing to her name. There was nothing I could do 
for the young black woman that disappeared on her way to campus. 
They found her purse and her phone, but nothing led them to her. 
Nobody was there to hold Renisha McBride’s hand 
when she was scared of dying. I worry poems are nothing against it. 
My mama said that if I became a poet or a teacher, I’d make nothing, but 
I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I aimed 
for a window. One student says when he writes, it feels 
like nothing can stop him, and his laughter unlocks a door. He invites me 
into his living.

Copyright © 2020 by Krysten Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 7, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

What is water but rain but cloud but river but ocean 
but ice but tear.

What is tear but torn what is worn as skin as in as out
as out.

Exodus. I am trying to tell a tale that shifts like a gale
that hurricanes and casts a line

that buckles in wind that is reborn a kite a wing. 
I am far

from the passage far from the plane of descending
them,

suitcases passports degrees of mobility like heat 
like heat on their backs. 

This cluster of fine grapes Haitian purple beige
black brown.

Copyright © 2020 by Danielle Legros Georges. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

                              —Milledgeville, Georgia 18581

The hand2 in which the laws of the land3
were penned was that of a white man.

Hand, servant, same as bondsman, slave,
and necessarily a negro4 in this context,
but not all blacks were held in bondage
though bound by the constructed fetters
of race—that expedient economic tool
for making a class of women and men
kept in place based on the color writ
across their faces—a conservative notion
for keeping power in the hands of the few5.
It kept the threat held over the heads of all
negroes, including those free blacks,
who after the coming war would be
called the formerly free people of color
once we were all ostensibly free.

Hands, enslaved, handled clay
and molds in the making of bricks
to build this big house for the gathering
of those few men with their white faces
who hold power like the end of the rope.

Hand, what’s needed to wed, and a ring
or broom. Hand, a horse measure, handy
in horse-trading6. We also call the pointers
on the clock that go around marking time
in this occidental fashion, handy for business
transactions, hands.


1Milledgeville, my hometown, touts itself as the Antebellum Capital and it was that, but it was also, for the duration of the Civil War, the Confederate Capital of Georgia, and where Joseph Emerson Brown, the governor of Georgia from November 6, 1857 till June 17, 1865, lived with his family in the Governor’s Mansion. Governors brought enslaved folks, folks they held as property, from their plantations to work as the household staff at the Governor’s Mansion.

2 Hand as in handwriting, which is awful
in my case, so I type, but way back when,
actually, only 150 years ago—two long-lived
lives—by law few like me had a hand.

3 What’s needed is a note on the laws
that constructed race in the colonies
and young states, but that deserves
a library’s worth of writing.

4 Almost a decade after reading the typescript of a letter written by Elizabeth Grisham Brown, Gov. Joseph Emerson Brown’s wife, I finally got to read the original letter written in her hand; I got to touch it with my hand. I got to verify that she’d written what I’d read in the typescript. I’d thought about this letter she wrote home to her mother and sister at their plantation for near a decade because of its closing sentences: “Hoping you are all well, we will expect to hear from you shortly. Mr. Brown and the children join me in love to you all.” And caught between that and her signing “Yours most affectionately, E. Brown” she writes “The negroes send love to their friends.” Those words in that letter struck me when I first read them and have stuck with me since. There is so much there that speaks to the situation those Black folk were in then and the situation Black folk are in now. I intend for the title of my next book to be The Negroes Send Love to Their Friends.

5And this arrangement also served the rest
who would walk on the white side of the color
line, so they would readily step at the behest
of that narrative of race and their investment
in what is white and Black.

6 Prospective buyers would inspect
Negroes like horses or other livestock
and look in their mouths.

Copyright © 2020 by Sean Hill. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 9, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Is there a place where black men can go
to be beautiful? Is there light there? Touch?

Is there comfort or room to raise their black
sons as anything other than a future asterisk,

at risk to be asteroid or rogue planet but not
comet—to be studded with awe and clamor

and admired for radial trajectories across
a dark sky made of asphalt and moonshine

to be celebs and deemed a magnificent sight?

Copyright © 2020 by Enzo Silon Surin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 10, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Who would have the sky any color but blue,
     Or the grass any color but green?
Or the flowers that bloom the summer through
     Of other color or sheen?

How the sunshine gladdens the human heart—
     How the sound of the falling rain
Will cause the tender tears to start,
     And free the soul from pain.

Oh, this old world is a great old place!
     And I love each season’s change,
The river, the brook of purling grace,
     The valley, the mountain range.

And when I am called to quit this life,
     My feet will not spurn the sod,
Though I leave this world with its beauty rife,—
     There’s a glorious one with God!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 11, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I do not crave to have thee mine alone, dear
   Keeping thy charms within my jealous sight;
Go, give the world the blessing of thy beauty,
   That other hearts may share of my delight!

I do not ask, thy love should be mine only
   While others falter through the dreary night;
Go, kiss the tears from some wayfarer’s vision, 
   That other eyes may know the joy of light!

Where days are sad and skies are hung with darkness, 
   Go, send a smile that sunshine may be rife;
Go, give a song, a word of kindly greeting, 
   To ease the sorrow of some lonely life!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 12, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

what anger in defiance
what sympathy in doubt
emotions steady try us
demanding every shout

what sympathy in doubt
what pleasure in our pain
demanding are our shouts
such hazardous terrain

what pleasure in our pain
mere thinness to our skin
such hazardous terrain
such unrelenting din

sheer thinness of our skin
the ruptures and the breaks
such unrelenting din
mistake after mistake

we rupture and we break
we stagger and we shine
mistake after mistake
inhabiting our minds

we stagger and we shine
we live our lives on spin
inhabiting our minds
and undermining limbs

we live our lives on spin
and thrive until we grieve
we undermine our limbs
then get the strength to leave

we thrive until we grieve
emotions steady try us
we get the strength. we leave.
what anger in defiance.

Copyright © 2020 by Allison Joseph. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 13, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

for Ermias Asghedom (Nipsey Hussle)

the streetlights still weep / a
marathon of clouds hold firm / the agony
continues / we’re all an assembly of
sad / I’ve been writing dismal testimony
since before the last person I love
was gunned down / been trying
to write something about happy
since before my great-aunt’s knees
decided to hang themselves / there are more
funerals to be had / I tell the sky this
and hope the sun shows because all this
bleakness might move me to throw
it into a well / do you know

what it is to make a wish knowing
it’s a waste since before you even made it /
there was a guy back home who sold roses
out his trunk / he’d wait outside clubs
and ask if anyone wanted to buy a pretty lady
a keepsake / something to ensure
she remembers you / something sweet
to accompany the drinks you’d gifted
all night / I remember watching gangsters
buy roses like lottery tickets / chase women
all the way to their cars / remind them
which drink came from which pocket /
plead to be remembered /

do you know badgers make their homes
underground / while we celebrate the day
they wait around for dark / all the men I love
are nocturnal / stumbling vampires
in search of midnight roses / one night I stumbled
out a juke and couldn’t find my car /
haunted neighborhood blocks for what seemed
like leap years / I grew gray
that night / started tracking my own footprints
in snow / do you know what it is to track
oneself / it requires divine patience / just when
you think you’ve found your target
it moves / the way a sober shadow might /
the way an almost granted wish does / the way
a badger moves once the last person on earth
places her head to the pillow / it peeks
above ground to let the bobcats know
it isn’t dead

Copyright © 2020 by Derrick Harriell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

"Their colour is a diabolic die."
            —Phillis Wheatley

What they say they are
And what they actually do
Is what Phillis overhears.
It’s like she isn’t there.
It’s like she’s a ghost, at arm’s length, hearing
The living curse out the dead—
Which, she’s been led to believe
No decent person does in a church.

How they say they love her
And how they look at her
Is what Phillis observes;
Like she’s the hole in the pocket
After the money rolls out.

God loves everybody—even the sinner,
(they say)
Even a mangy hound can rely
On a scrap of meat, scraped off the plate
(they say).

What they testify
And what they whisper in earshot
Is as dark as her skin, whistled from opposite sides
Of a mouth.

Is she the bible’s fine print?

Copyright © 2020 by Cornelius Eady. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 15, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

your body is still a miracle    thirst
quenched    with water across dry tongue and lips 
    or cocoa butter    ashy legs immersed
till shine seen    sheen    the mind too    cups and dips
from its favorite rivers    figures and facts
    slant stories of orbiting      protests or
protons    around daughters or suns  ::  it backs
up or opens wide to joy’s gush    downpour 
    the floods the heart pumps    hip hop    doo wop    dub
    veins mining the mud for poetry’s o
cell after cell drinks    ringgold colors       mulled 
    cool cascades of calla lilies  ::  swallow
and bathe    breathe    believe    through drought you survive 
    like the passage schooled you    till rains arrive

                        —after alexis pauline gumbs

Copyright © 2020 by Evie Shockley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 16, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.