My mother is taking me to the store because it’s hot out and I’m sick and want a popsicle. All the other kids are at school sitting in rows of small desks, looking out the window. She is wearing one of those pantsuits with shoulder pads and carrying a purse with a checkbook. We are holding hands, standing in front of the big automatic doors which silently swing open so we can walk in together, so we can step out of the heat and step into a world of fluorescent light and cool, cool air. Then, as if a part of the heat had suddenly broken off, had become its own power, a man places his arm around her shoulders but also around her neck and she lets go of my hand and pushes me away. Pushes me toward the safety of the checkout line. Then the man begins to yell. And then the man begins to cry. The pyramid of canned beans in front of me is so perfect I can’t imagine anyone needing beans bad enough to destroy it. The man is walking my mother down one aisle and then another aisle and then another like a father dragging his daughter toward a wedding he cannot find. Everyone is standing so still. All you can hear is my mom pleading and the sound of the air conditioner like Shhhhhhhhhh.
Copyright © 2018 by Matthew Dickman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 16, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
say it with your whole black mouth: i am innocent
& if you are not innocent, say this: i am worthy of forgiveness, of breath after breath
i tell you this: i let blue eyes dress me in guilt
walked around stores convinced the very skin of my palm was stolen
& what good has that brought me? days filled flinching
thinking the sirens were reaching for me
& when the sirens were for me
did i not make peace with god?
so many white people are alive because
we know how to control ourselves.
how many times have we died on a whim
wielded like gallows in their sun-shy hands?
here, standing in my own body, i say: the next time
they murder us for the crime of their imaginations
i don’t know what i’ll do.
i did not come to preach of peace
for that is not the hunted’s duty.
i came here to say what i can’t say
without my name being added to a list
what my mother fears i will say
what she wishes to say herself
i came here to say
i can’t bring myself to write it down
sometimes i dream of pulling a red apology
from a pig’s collared neck & wake up crackin up
if i dream of setting fire to cul-de-sacs
i wake chained to the bed
i don’t like thinking about doing to white folks
what white folks done to us
when i do
i don’t dance
o my people
how long will we
reach for god
instead of something sharper?
my lovely doe
with a taste for meat
by his hand
Copyright © 2018 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 25, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.