Dedicated to the Poet Agostinho Neto,
President of The People’s Republic of Angola: 1976

1
I will no longer lightly walk behind
a one of you who fear me:
                                     Be afraid.
I plan to give you reasons for your jumpy fits
and facial tics
I will not walk politely on the pavements anymore
and this is dedicated in particular
to those who hear my footsteps
or the insubstantial rattling of my grocery
cart
then turn around
see me
and hurry on
away from this impressive terror I must be:
I plan to blossom bloody on an afternoon
surrounded by my comrades singing
terrible revenge in merciless
accelerating
rhythms
But
I have watched a blind man studying his face.
I have set the table in the evening and sat down
to eat the news.
Regularly
I have gone to sleep.
There is no one to forgive me.
The dead do not give a damn.
I live like a lover
who drops her dime into the phone
just as the subway shakes into the station
wasting her message
canceling the question of her call:
fulminating or forgetful but late
and always after the fact that could save or 
condemn me

I must become the action of my fate.

2
How many of my brothers and my sisters
will they kill
before I teach myself
retaliation?
Shall we pick a number? 
South Africa for instance:
do we agree that more than ten thousand
in less than a year but that less than
five thousand slaughtered in more than six
months will
WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH ME?

I must become a menace to my enemies.

3
And if I 
if I ever let you slide
who should be extirpated from my universe
who should be cauterized from earth
completely
(lawandorder jerkoffs of the first the
                   terrorist degree)
then let my body fail my soul
in its bedeviled lecheries

And if I 
if I ever let love go
because the hatred and the whisperings
become a phantom dictate I o-
bey in lieu of impulse and realities
(the blossoming flamingos of my
                   wild mimosa trees)
then let love freeze me
out.
I must become
I must become a menace to my enemies.

Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

For Howard Zinn

who will come to tell us what we know
that the king’s clothes are soiled with
the history of our blood and sweat

who memorializes us when we have been vanquished
who recounts our moments of resistance, explicates
our struggles, sings of our sacrifices to those
unable to hear our song

who speaks of our triumphs, of how we
altered the course of a raging river of oppression
how we turned our love for each other into a
garrison of righteous rebellion

who shows us even in failure, when we
have been less than large, when our own
prejudices have been turned against us like
stolen weapons

who walks among us, willing to tell the truth
about the monster of lies, an eclipse that casts
a shadow dark enough to cover centuries

what manner of man, of woman, of truth teller
roots around the muck of history, the word covered
in the mud of denial, the mythology of the conquerors

let them be Zinn, let them sing to the people of history
let their song come slowly, on the periphery of canon
of history departments owned by corporate prevaricators

let their song be sung in small circles, furtive meetings
lonely readers, underground and under siege
their song, the seed crushed to earth, and growing
now a tree, with fruit, multiplying truth.

Copyright © 2014 by Kenneth Carroll. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Used by permission of the Archives of Claude McKay (Carl Cowl, administrator).

                          for my ancestor
                          in the Pennsylvania 25th Colored Infantry
                          aboard the Suwanee

 

First a penny-sized hole in the hull
                     then eager saltwater rushing over
    us and clouds swirling and clotting
            the moonlight—no time to stop and look upon it
as the hole becomes an iron mouth,
    makes strange sounds, peels and tears
                        open iron as iron should not open—

muffled and heavy         us becoming underwater
                     we confused the metal echo and thunder
         as the same death knell from God’s mouth—

we been done           floated all this way down 
           in dark blue used
      uniforms, how far from slavers’ dried-out fields
in Virginia, Pennsylvania—wherever

                                         we came from now we   
         barely and only
                    see and hear an ocean
                                        whipped into storm

not horror, not glory, but storm
                   not fear, not power, but focus
             on the work of breathing, living as the storm
rocks us and our insides upside down        turns
                   hard tack into empty nausea—

                 so close to death I thought I saw the blaze-
            sick fields of Berryville again, the curling fingers
                             of tobacco, hurt fruit and flower—
                      but no, but         no.

             I say no to death now. I’m nobody’s slave
                                    now. I’m alive     and not alone,
one of those      who escaped and made    myself
                 a soldier a weapon a stone in David’s sling
       riding the air above the deep. I grow more dangerous
to those who want me. I ain’t going back
                                 to anywhere I been before.

                 I grab a bucket. You grab a bucket. We the 25th
       Pennsylvania Colored Infantry, newly formed
                            and too alive and close to free
          to sink below this midnight water. 36 hours—chaos
shoveling-lifting-throwing       ocean back into ocean
                         to reach land and war in the Carolinas. 

       I stole my body back       from death and going down
                        more than once. I steal my breath
           tonight and every night      I will not drown. 

Copyright © 2020 by Aaron Coleman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 24, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Go live with yourself after what you didn’t do.

Go and be left behind. Pre-package
                              your defense, tell yourself

                                                      you were doing
             your oath, guarding the futility of
            
                   your corrupted good,

              discerning the currency of some.

                                   As if them over all else.
                                         Over us.
                                    Above God and Spirit.
                                        
                          You over me, you think.

This is no shelter in justice not sheltering with
enclosure of soft iron a sheltering of injustices
into an inferno flooding of your crimes committed
and sheltered by most culprit of them all.

                      These nesting days come
outward springs of truth,

                    dismantle the old structures,

their impulse for colony—I am done
                                                    with it, the likes of you.

To perpetrate.
To perpetrate lack of closure, smolders of unrest.
To perpetrate long days alone, centuries gone deprived.

                             To be complicit in adding to the
                   perpetration of power on a neck,
                            there and shamed,

                             court of ancestors to disgrace
              you, seeing and to have done nothing.

Think you can be like them.

Work like them.
Talk like them.

Never truly to be accepted,
                                            always a pawn.

Copyright © 2020 by Mai Der Vang. Originally published with the Shelter in Poems initiative on poets.org.

When the pickup truck, with its side mirror,
almost took out my arm, the driver’s grin

reflected back; it was just a horror

show that was never going to happen,
don’t protest, don’t bother with the police

for my benefit, he gave me a smile—

he too was startled, redness in his face—
when I thought I was going, a short while,

to get myself killed: it wasn’t anger

when he bared his teeth, as if to caution
calm down, all good, no one died, ni[ght, neighbor]—

no sense getting all pissed, the commotion

of the past is the past; I was so dim,
he never saw me—of course, I saw him.

Copyright © 2020 by Tommye Blount. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 19, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets. 

Maggot & Mosquito mother infectious
encounters. Call home to the fen. Flooding
makes a marsh and unhouses the land.
I picture skin, inch by inch conversion
to new flesh. Without medicine i’ve seen the body
be made a speedy disposal. Dejected ground.
Profitable & prosper both contain pro.
Prospero Prospero Prospero.
I too have made incantation
of the man’s name
who gave me a borrowed tongue.
He planted a flag & dispensed
what made up his brain. Start
small & end larger. Expansion
is a uniform my lineage can’t shirk.
The water is enclosing, body
thinning in a baptism of English.
I could say that colonialism was a disease,
but that would suggest a cure.

Copyright © 2020 by Nabila Lovelace. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

            for my grandfather

We don’t have heirlooms. Haven’t owned things long enough. We’re hoarding us
in our stories.                         Like October 26—the Oklahoma Quick
Stop gas at 90¢ and, in 158 more days,

Passion of the Christ in a wildlife
refuge with Rabbits foot and Black
Capped birds—when Edgar Whetstone shoots

himself. Like August 4, 1919. Like Ada Willis births
the boy conceived with Boy gone somewhere. Like her prayers and circa 10
years past and Mr. Charlie saying, Edgar reads (you call that 
       clean?)

but please, girl, coloreds don’t become
doctors. Like Edgar trashed his books.
Like served, discharged. Like funeral

director close to doctor as it got.                  Formaldehyde wrecked him
like Time to get up out the South Detroit inspect dynamics burn
a house down torch the county jail.             Like now, October. Like I found,

searching the internet, one shot
of the asylum’s blurry hall
empty but for an organ’s pipes.

I saw Edgar deluding hymns rousing the two of us in Rock
of Ages followed by Philippians 1:21—to die
is gain. No way to prove the claim, you die in dream, you die for 
       real.

Our family still hanged from trees.
Like if they ever fall, no one
will hear it someday for a while.

Copyright © 2019 by Erica Dawson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

You, selling roses out of a silver grocery cart

You, in the park, feeding the pigeons
You cheering for the bees

You with cats in your voice in the morning, feeding cats

You protecting the river   You are who I love
delivering babies, nursing the sick

You with henna on your feet and a gold star in your nose

You taking your medicine, reading the magazines

You looking into the faces of young people as they pass, smiling and saying, Alright! which, they know it, means I see you, Family. I love you. Keep on.

You dancing in the kitchen, on the sidewalk, in the subway waiting for the train because Stevie Wonder, Héctor Lavoe, La Lupe

You stirring the pot of beans, you, washing your father’s feet

You are who I love, you
reciting Darwish, then June

Feeding your heart, teaching your parents how to do The Dougie, counting to 10, reading your patients’ charts

You are who I love, changing policies, standing in line for water, stocking the food pantries, making a meal

You are who I love, writing letters, calling the senators, you who, with the seconds of your body (with your time here), arrive on buses, on trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the January streets against the cool and brutal offices, saying: YOUR CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME

You are who I love, you struggling to see

You struggling to love or find a question

You better than me, you kinder and so blistering with anger, you are who I love, standing in the wind, salvaging the umbrellas, graduating from school, wearing holes in your shoes

You are who I love
weeping or touching the faces of the weeping

You, Violeta Parra, grateful for the alphabet, for sound, singing toward us in the dream

You carrying your brother home
You noticing the butterflies

Sharing your water, sharing your potatoes and greens

You who did and did not survive
You who cleaned the kitchens
You who built the railroad tracks and roads
You who replanted the trees, listening to the work of squirrels and birds, you are who I love
You whose blood was taken, whose hands and lives were taken, with or without your saying
Yes, I mean to give. You are who I love.

You who the borders crossed
You whose fires
You decent with rage, so in love with the earth
You writing poems alongside children

You cactus, water, sparrow, crow      You, my elder
You are who I love,
summoning the courage, making the cobbler,

getting the blood drawn, sharing the difficult news, you always planting the marigolds, learning to walk wherever you are, learning to read wherever you are, you baking the bread, you come to me in dreams, you kissing the faces of your dead wherever you are, speaking to your children in your mother’s languages, tootsing the birds

You are who I love, behind the library desk, leaving who might kill you, crying with the love songs, polishing your shoes, lighting the candles, getting through the first day despite the whisperers sniping fail fail fail

You are who I love, you who beat and did not beat the odds, you who knows that any good thing you have is the result of someone else’s sacrifice, work, you who fights for reparations

You are who I love, you who stands at the courthouse with the sign that reads NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE

You are who I love, singing Leonard Cohen to the snow, you with glitter on your face, wearing a kilt and violet lipstick

You are who I love, sighing in your sleep

You, playing drums in the procession, you feeding the chickens and humming as you hem the skirt, you sharpening the pencil, you writing the poem about the loneliness of the astronaut

You wanting to listen, you trying to be so still

You are who I love, mothering the dogs, standing with horses

You in brightness and in darkness, throwing your head back as you laugh, kissing your hand

You carrying the berbere from the mill, and the jug of oil pressed from the olives of the trees you belong to

You studying stars, you are who I love
braiding your child’s hair

You are who I love, crossing the desert and trying to cross the desert

You are who I love, working the shifts to buy books, rice, tomatoes,

bathing your children as you listen to the lecture, heating the kitchen with the oven, up early, up late

You are who I love, learning English, learning Spanish, drawing flowers on your hand with a ballpoint pen, taking the bus home

You are who I love, speaking plainly about your pain, sucking your teeth at the airport terminal television every time the politicians say something that offends your sense of decency, of thought, which is often

You are who I love, throwing your hands up in agony or disbelief, shaking your head, arguing back, out loud or inside of yourself, holding close your incredulity which, yes, too, I love    I love

your working heart, how each of its gestures, tiny or big, stand beside my own agony, building a forest there

How “Fuck you” becomes a love song

You are who I love, carrying the signs, packing the lunches, with the rain on your face

You at the edges and shores, in the rooms of quiet, in the rooms of shouting, in the airport terminal, at the bus depot saying “No!” and each of us looking out from the gorgeous unlikelihood of our lives at all, finding ourselves here, witnesses to each other’s tenderness, which, this moment, is fury, is rage, which, this moment, is another way of saying: You are who I love   You are who I love  You and you and you are who

Copyright © 2017 by Aracelis Girmay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

But there never was a black male hysteria
Breaking & entering wearing glee & sadness
And the light grazing my teeth with my lighter
To the night with the flame like a blade cutting
Me slack along the corridors with doors of offices
Orifices vomiting tears & fire with my two tongues
Loose & shooing under a high-top of language
In a layer of mischief so traumatized trauma
Delighted me beneath the tremendous
Stupendous horrendous undiscovered stars
Burning where I didn’t know how to live
My friends were all the wounded people
The black girls who held their own hands
Even the white boys who grew into assassins 

Copyright © 2017 by Terrance Hayes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

Breathe
. As in what if
the shadow is gold
en? Breathe. As in
hale assuming
exhale. Imagine
that.      As in first
person singular. Homonym
:eye. As in subject. As
in centeroftheworld as in
mundane. The opposite of spectacle
spectacular. This is just us
breathing. Imagine
normalized respite
gold in shadows
. You have the
right to breathe and remain
. Imagine
that
.

Copyright © 2019 by Rosamond S. King. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

On the train the woman standing makes you understand there are no seats available. And, in fact, there is one. Is the woman getting off at the next stop? No, she would rather stand all the way to Union Station.

The space next to the man is the pause in a conversation you are suddenly rushing to fill. You step quickly over the woman's fear, a fear she shares. You let her have it.

The man doesn't acknowledge you as you sit down because the man knows more about the unoccupied seat than you do. For him, you imagine, it is more like breath than wonder; he has had to think about it so much you wouldn't call it thought.

When another passenger leaves his seat and the standing woman sits, you glance over at the man. He is gazing out the window into what looks like darkness.

You sit next to the man on the train, bus, in the plane, waiting room, anywhere he could be forsaken. You put your body there in proximity to, adjacent to, alongside, within.

You don't speak unless you are spoken to and your body speaks to the space you fill and you keep trying to fill it except the space belongs to the body of the man next to you, not to you.

Where he goes the space follows him. If the man left his seat before Union Station you would simply be a person in a seat on the train. You would cease to struggle against the unoccupied seat when where why the space won't lose its meaning.

You imagine if the man spoke to you he would say, it's okay, I'm okay, you don't need to sit here. You don't need to sit and you sit and look past him into the darkness the train is moving through. A tunnel.

All the while the darkness allows you to look at him. Does he feel you looking at him? You suspect so. What does suspicion mean? What does suspicion do?

The soft gray-green of your cotton coat touches the sleeve of him. You are shoulder to shoulder though standing you could feel shadowed. You sit to repair whom who? You erase that thought. And it might be too late for that.

It might forever be too late or too early. The train moves too fast for your eyes to adjust to anything beyond the man, the window, the tiled tunnel, its slick darkness. Occasionally, a white light flickers by like a displaced sound.

From across the aisle tracks room harbor world a woman asks a man in the rows ahead if he would mind switching seats. She wishes to sit with her daughter or son. You hear but you don't hear. You can't see.

It's then the man next to you turns to you. And as if from inside your own head you agree that if anyone asks you to move, you'll tell them we are traveling as a family.

Originally published in Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014). Copyright © by Claudia Rankine. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

let ruin end here

let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter

let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs

let this be the healing
& if not   let it be

From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.

Assétou Xango performs at Cafe Cultura in Denver.


“Give your daughters difficult names.
Names that command the full use of the tongue.
My name makes you want to tell me the truth.
My name does not allow me to trust anyone
who cannot pronounce it right.”
      —Warsan Shire

Many of my contemporaries,
role models,
But especially,
Ancestors

Have a name that brings the tongue to worship.
Names that feel like ritual in your mouth.

I don’t want a name said without pause,
muttered without intention.

I am through with names that leave me unmoved.
Names that leave the speaker’s mouth unscathed.

I want a name like fire,
like rebellion,
like my hand gripping massa’s whip—

I want a name from before the ships
A name Donald Trump might choke on.

I want a name that catches you in the throat
if you say it wrong
and if you’re afraid to say it wrong,
then I guess you should be.

I want a name only the brave can say
a name that only fits right in the mouth of those who love me right,
because only the brave
can love me right

Assétou Xango is the name you take when you are tired
of burying your jewels under thick layers of
soot
and self-doubt.

Assétou the light
Xango the pickaxe
so that people must mine your soul
just to get your attention.

If you have to ask why I changed my name,
it is already too far beyond your comprehension.
Call me callous,
but with a name like Xango
I cannot afford to tread lightly.
You go hard
or you go home
and I am centuries
and ships away
from any semblance
of a homeland.

I am a thief’s poor bookkeeping skills way from any source of ancestry.
I am blindly collecting the shattered pieces of a continent
much larger than my comprehension.

I hate explaining my name to people:
their eyes peering over my journal
looking for a history they can rewrite

Ask me what my name means...
What the fuck does your name mean Linda?

Not every word needs an English equivalent in order to have significance.

I am done folding myself up to fit your stereotype.
Your black friend.
Your headline.
Your African Queen Meme.
Your hurt feelings.
Your desire to learn the rhetoric of solidarity
without the practice.

I do not have time to carry your allyship.

I am trying to build a continent,
A country,
A home.

My name is the only thing I have that is unassimilated
and I’m not even sure I can call it mine.

The body is a safeless place if you do not know its name.

Assétou is what it sounds like when you are trying to bend a syllable
into a home.
With shaky shudders
And wind whistling through your empty,

I feel empty.

There is no safety in a name.
No home in a body.

A name is honestly just a name
A name is honestly just a ritual

And it still sounds like reverence.

Copyright © 2017 Assétou Xango. Used with permission of the poet. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2020. 

For Uncle Paul N’nem

hell nah over my dead—i paid mine. I checked
Black & subtraction knows what it did. made Black
a box to check. subtraction doesn’t know how even
a sigh seasons the roux & the second breath my mother
was always trying to catch. american. emergency.
subtraction doesn’t know Black’s many bodies & body’s
of water. though subtraction does. sunken. gifting the sea’s
new strange stones. subtraction reopened the barbershops &
bowling alleys. insists church. sent us home with inhalers &
half-assed sentences: in god - we - the people - vs - degradation
vs - a new packaged deliverance. homicide. hallelujah.
i’ll be damned. i’ll be back before i’ll be buried. i been Black
& ain’t slept since. subtraction needs my blood to water
their weapons to subtract my blood. do you see the necessity
for dreaming? or else the need to stay awake. to watch. worried.
the hand. invisible. make a peace sign. then a pistol.

Copyright © 2020 by Donte Collins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 10, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

’Tis a time for much rejoicing;
      Let each heart be lured away;
Let each tongue, its thanks be voicing
      For Emancipation Day.
Day of victory, day of glory,
For thee, many a field was gory!

Many a time in days now ended,
      Hath our fathers’ courage failed,
Patiently their tears they blended;
      Ne’er they to their, Maker, railed,
Well we know their groans, He numbered,
When dominions fell, asundered.

As of old the Red Sea parted,
      And oppressed passed safely through,
Back from the North, the bold South, started,
      And a fissure wide she drew;
Drew a cleft of Liberty,
Through it, marched our people free.

And, in memory, ever grateful,
      Of the day they reached the shore,
Meet we now, with hearts e’er faithful,
      Joyous that the storm is o’er.
Storm of Torture! May grim Past,
Hurl thee down his torrents fast.

Bring your harpers, bring your sages,
      Bid each one the story tell;
Waft it on to future ages,
      Bid descendants learn it well.
Kept it bright in minds now tender,
Teach the young their thanks to render.

Come with hearts all firm united,
      In the union of a race;
With your loyalty well plighted,
      Look your brother in the face,
Stand by him, forsake him never,
God is with us now, forever.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 19, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Nobody wants to die on the way
caught between ghosts of whiteness
and the real water
none of us wanted to leave
our bones
on the way to salvation
three planets to the left
a century of light years ago
our spices are separate and particular
but our skins sing in complimentary keys
at a quarter to eight mean time
we were telling the same stories
over and over and over.

Broken down gods survive
in the crevasses and mudpots
of every beleaguered city
where it is obvious
there are too many bodies
to cart to the ovens
or gallows
and our uses have become
more important than our silence
after the fall
too many empty cases
of blood to bury or burn
and there will be no body left
to listen
and our labor
has become more important
than our silence

Our labor has become
more important
than our silence.

Copyright © 1978 by Audre Lorde, from THE COLLECTED POEMS OF AUDRE LORDE by Audre Lorde. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

I suppose I should place them under separate files
Both died from different circumstances kind of, one from HIV AIDS and possibly not having
taken his medicines
the other from COVID-19 coupled with
complications from an underlying HIV status
In each case their deaths may have been preventable if one had taken his meds and the
hospital thought to treat the other
instead of sending him home saying, He wasn’t sick enough
he died a few days later
They were both mountains of men
dark black beautiful gay men
both more than six feet tall fierce and way ahead of their time
One’s drag persona was Wonder Woman and the other started a black fashion magazine
He also liked poetry
They both knew each other from the same club scene we all grew up in
When I was working the door at a club one frequented
He would always say to me haven’t they figured out you’re a star yet
And years ago bartending with the other when I complained about certain people and
treatment he said sounds like it’s time for you to clean house
Both I know were proud of me the poet star stayed true to my roots
I guess what stands out to me is that they both were
gay black mountains of men
Cut down
Felled too early
And it makes me think the biggest and blackest are almost always more vulnerable
My white friend speculates why the doctors sent one home
If he had enough antibodies
Did they not know his HIV status
She approaches it rationally
removed from race as if there were any rationale for sending him home
Still she credits the doctors for thinking it through
But I speculate they saw a big black man before them
Maybe they couldn’t imagine him weak
Maybe because of his size color class they imagined him strong
said he’s okay
Which happened to me so many times
Once when I’d been hospitalized at the same time as a white girl
she had pig-tails
we had the same thing but I saw how tenderly they treated her
Or knowing so many times in the medical system I would never have been treated so terribly if I
had had a man with me
Or if I were white and entitled enough to sue
Both deaths could have been prevented both were almost first to fall in this season of death
But it reminds me of what I said after Eric Garner a large black man was strangled to death over
some cigarettes
Six cops took him down
His famous lines were I can’t breathe
so if we are always the threat
To whom or where do we turn for protection?

Copyright © 2020 by Pamela Sneed. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 18, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Motivated forgetting is a psychological defense mechanism whereby people cope with threatening and unwanted memories by suppressing them from consciousness.
            —Amy N. Dalton and Li Huang

              in Badagry there is a hung-
              ry well of water and memory

 

                                                         loss. in Badagry there was a well 
                                                         of people lost across a haven 

 

of water. in Badagry there was
a port overwhelmed in un-return. 

 

                                    to omit within the mind is to ebb
                                    heavenward. memory is a wealth 

 

                                                      choking the brain in un-respons-
                                                      ibility. violence in the mind and 

 

                                    the mind forgets in order to remember
                                    the self before the violence begot. 

 

in Badagry trauma washes ungod-
ly memory heavenward. in Bad-

 

                                       agry there is an attenuation well 
                                       meant to wish away a passage, 

 

                                                                      meant to unhaven a people.
                                                                      violence is underwhelming

 

                                         in return. what the body eats, 
                                         the mind waters. responsible 

 

is the memory for un-remittal. 
royal is the body for return. god is

 

                                     the mind for wafting. forgetting 
                                     is a port homeward. in Bad- 

 

                                                   agry hungry memory grows angry.
                                                   in Badagry the memories un- 

 

                 choke. trauma un-eats the royal. 
                 in Badagry there is a heaven 

 

                                               of people responsible for the birth- 
                                               right of remembering, for the well 

 

                                      of us across a haven of water
                                      overwhelmed in un-return.

Copyright © 2020 by Porsha Olayiwola. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 17, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

You are in the black car burning beneath the highway
And rising above it—not as smoke

But what causes it to rise. Hey, Black Child,
You are the fire at the end of your elders’

Weeping, fire against the blur of horse, hoof,
Stick, stone, several plagues including time.

Chrysalis hanging on the bough of this night
And the burning world: Burn, Baby, burn.

Anvil and iron be thy name, yea though ye may
Walk among the harnessed heat and huntsmen

Who bear their masters’ hunger for paradise
In your rabbit-death, in the beheading of your ghost.

You are the healing snake in the heather
Bursting forth from your humps of sleep.

In the morning, your tongue moves along the earth
Naming hawk sky; rabbit run; your tongue,

Poison to the filthy democracy, to the gold-
Domed capitols where the ‘Guard in their grub-

Worm-colored uniforms cling to the blades of grass—
Worm on the leaf, worm in the dust, worm,

Worm made of rust: sing it with me,
Dragon of Insurmountable Beauty.

Black Child, laugh at the men with their hoofs
and borrowed muscle, their long and short guns,

The worm of their faces, their casket ass-
Embling of the afternoon, leftover leaves

From last year’s autumn scraping across their boots;
Laugh, laugh at their assassins on the roofs

(For the time of the assassin is also the time of hysterical laughter).

Black Child, you are the walking-on-of-water
Without the need of an approving master.

You are in a beautiful language.

You are what lies beyond this kingdom
And the next and the next and fire. Fire, Black Child.

Copyright © 2020 by Roger Reeves. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 16, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

for Malcolm Latiff Shabazz

yellow roses in my mother’s room    mean
I’m sorry   sadness comes in      generations
inheritance           split   flayed    displayed
better than all the others

crown                                    weight

the undue burden of the truly exceptional
most special of your kind, a kind of fire

persisting unafraid      saffron bloom
to remind us of fragility    or beauty       or revolution

to ponder darkly             in the bright
the fate of young kings

the crimes for which          there are no apologies.

Copyright © 2020 by Kristina Kay Robinson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

the slight angling up of the forehead
neck extension                        quick jut of chin

meeting the strangers’ eyes
a gilded curtsy to the sunfill in another

in yourself      tithe of respect
in an early version the copy editor deleted

the word “head” from the title
the copy editor says              it’s implied

the copy editor means well
the copy editor means

she is only fluent in one language of gestures
i do not explain                     i feel sad for her

limited understanding of greetings              & maybe
this is why my acknowledgements are so long;

didn’t we learn this early?
            to look at white spaces

            & find the color       
            thank god o thank god for

                                                             you               
                                                                                        are here.

Copyright © 2020 by Elizabeth Acevedo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 22, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Last night, I visited a captivity story. 
I was sitting in a lean-to made of bark 
with Ella Ruth, both of us teenagers— 

her ebony skin, her black hair touching 
her tailbone. I looked at her hard, & 
she came back to sit beside the fire. 

From a slit in the rawhide doorway 
I could see my tribe in surgical masks, 
& as dogs began to howl I woke up.

Strange how the mind finds tenderness  
even in captivity. Or how amidst 
this being held in isolation we dream 

of masks. I see my ancestors, too,  
at the Carnival of Venice, a bouquet 
of myrrh, viper flesh, & honey 

in the plague doctor’s long beak— 
the face of death meant to ward off death. 
They look back through the silver mirror. 

Remember traveling to Siena, 
& we entered that semi-dark room? 
Those strange garments—the garb 

worn by a secret society of men— 
men who wore what we thought 
were pale KKK robes & masks. 

But they had cared for the contagious 
sick, & escorted them to the here 
& after, their faces always hidden. 

Yes, we descended the Ospedale’s 
winding stairs stories underground,  
through a long hall to a hidden room  

where a small medieval oil painting hung, 
the Confraternity of the Night Oratory
St. Catherine of Siena holds the brothers, 

their faces coved in hoods & white robes,  
under her cloak. They worked shifts  
on behalf of the many struck with plague. 

The hooded prisoners were led behind 
medieval-thick walls, into their tiny cells 
where solitary penitence was paid twenty- 

three hours a day. No one dared to speak 
at the Eastern State Penitentiary, eyes 
staring always at the cold stone floors. 

Beans, flourless bread, shad, lobster, 
corn, peppers, & a few grains of salt. 
Now, Al Capone had a rug & a radio. 

On a poor man’s cell block, uncle Gussie, 
who robbed a bank, spent years  
in the prison built like a wagon wheel. 

The low cell door forced him to bow  
when entering; the skylight above— 
the Eye of God—a reminder he was watched.  

When his mother died, two brothers,  
a priest & a cop, left sepia photographs  
of the funeral. Now, cats & ghosts roam. 

Lord, this big country. Land of plentitude 
ravaged, heart & gut torn out in the name 
of civilization & progress, & just plain old 

unsung unction, low-down skullduggery 
& theurgy. Nature ripped out by thew 
toned in old world prisons. Horsepower.    

Even with hard times here, hug the moon 
devastatingly close, & beat down the door 
with true love. Wherever you are, bless us. 

Yeah, we’ve both known a few in the joint,  
robbing Peter to pay Paul, or caught  
blowing time with this one or that one.  

Some excuse to keep rats on a wheel, or in a cage.  
Look, time moves at least twice at once now— 
back & forth, slow & fast. I held my palm 

 on my father’s back when he bent to whisper  
in the ear of the dead, & two men in black  
draped a white handkerchief over a face. 

Copyright © 2020 by Yusef Komunyakaa and Laren McClung. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Last night, I visited a captivity story. 
I was sitting in a lean-to made of bark 
with Ella Ruth, both of us teenagers— 

her ebony skin, her black hair touching 
her tailbone. I looked at her hard, & 
she came back to sit beside the fire. 

From a slit in the rawhide doorway 
I could see my tribe in surgical masks, 
& as dogs began to howl I woke up.

Strange how the mind finds tenderness  
even in captivity. Or how amidst 
this being held in isolation we dream 

of masks. I see my ancestors, too,  
at the Carnival of Venice, a bouquet 
of myrrh, viper flesh, & honey 

in the plague doctor’s long beak— 
the face of death meant to ward off death. 
They look back through the silver mirror. 

Remember traveling to Siena, 
& we entered that semi-dark room? 
Those strange garments—the garb 

worn by a secret society of men— 
men who wore what we thought 
were pale KKK robes & masks. 

But they had cared for the contagious 
sick, & escorted them to the here 
& after, their faces always hidden. 

Yes, we descended the Ospedale’s 
winding stairs stories underground,  
through a long hall to a hidden room  

where a small medieval oil painting hung, 
the Confraternity of the Night Oratory
St. Catherine of Siena holds the brothers, 

their faces coved in hoods & white robes,  
under her cloak. They worked shifts  
on behalf of the many struck with plague. 

The hooded prisoners were led behind 
medieval-thick walls, into their tiny cells 
where solitary penitence was paid twenty- 

three hours a day. No one dared to speak 
at the Eastern State Penitentiary, eyes 
staring always at the cold stone floors. 

Beans, flourless bread, shad, lobster, 
corn, peppers, & a few grains of salt. 
Now, Al Capone had a rug & a radio. 

On a poor man’s cell block, uncle Gussie, 
who robbed a bank, spent years  
in the prison built like a wagon wheel. 

The low cell door forced him to bow  
when entering; the skylight above— 
the Eye of God—a reminder he was watched.  

When his mother died, two brothers,  
a priest & a cop, left sepia photographs  
of the funeral. Now, cats & ghosts roam. 

Lord, this big country. Land of plentitude 
ravaged, heart & gut torn out in the name 
of civilization & progress, & just plain old 

unsung unction, low-down skullduggery 
& theurgy. Nature ripped out by thew 
toned in old world prisons. Horsepower.    

Even with hard times here, hug the moon 
devastatingly close, & beat down the door 
with true love. Wherever you are, bless us. 

Yeah, we’ve both known a few in the joint,  
robbing Peter to pay Paul, or caught  
blowing time with this one or that one.  

Some excuse to keep rats on a wheel, or in a cage.  
Look, time moves at least twice at once now— 
back & forth, slow & fast. I held my palm 

 on my father’s back when he bent to whisper  
in the ear of the dead, & two men in black  
draped a white handkerchief over a face. 

Copyright © 2020 by Yusef Komunyakaa and Laren McClung. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

with a line from Gwendolyn Brooks

Months into the plague now,
I am disallowed
entry even into the waiting
room with Mom, escorted outside
instead by men armed
with guns & bottles
of hand sanitizer, their entire
countenance its own American
metaphor. So the first time
I see you in full force,
I am pacing maniacally
up & down the block outside,
Facetiming the radiologist
& your mother too,
her arm angled like a cellist’s
to help me see.
We are dazzled by the sight
of each bone in your feet,
the pulsing black archipelago
of your heart, your fists in front
of your face like mine when I
was only just born, ten times as big
as you are now. Your great-grandmother
calls me Tyson the moment she sees
this pose. Prefigures a boy
built for conflict, her barbarous
and metal little man. She leaves
the world only months after we learn
you are entering into it. And her mind
the year before that. In the dementia’s final
days, she envisions herself as a girl
of seventeen, running through fields
of strawberries, unfettered as a king
-fisher. I watch your stance and imagine
her laughter echoing back across the ages,
you, her youngest descendant born into
freedom, our littlest burden-lifter, world
-beater, avant-garde percussionist
swinging darkness into song.

Copyright © 2020 by Joshua Bennett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 24, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

A prison is the only place that’s a prison.
Maybe your brain is a beehive—or, better:
an ants nest? A spin class?
The sand stuck in an hourglass? Your brain is like
stop it. So you practice driving with your knees,
you get all the way out to the complex of Little League fields,
you get chicken fingers with four kinds of mustard—
spicy, whole grain, Dijon, yellow—
you walk from field to field, you watch yourself
play every position, you circle each identical game,
each predictable outcome. On one field you catch.
On one field you pitch. You are center field. You are left.
Sometimes you have steady hands and French braids.
Sometimes you slide too hard into second on purpose.
It feels as good to get the bloody knee as it does to kick yourself in the shin.
You wait for the bottom of the ninth to lay your blanket out in the sun.
Admit it, Sasha, the sun helps. Today,
the red team hits the home run. Red floods every field.
A wasp lands on your thigh. You know this feeling.

Copyright © 2020 by Sasha Debevec-McKenney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 26, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

When I rise up above the earth,
And look down on the things that fetter me,
I beat my wings upon the air,
Or tranquil lie,
Surge after surge of potent strength
Like incense comes to me
When I rise up above the earth
And look down upon the things that fetter me.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Glory of plums, femur of Glory.
Glory of ferns
on a dark platter.

Glory of willows, Glory of Stag beetles
Glory of the long obedience
of the kingfisher.

Glory of waterbirds, Glory
of thirst.

Glory of the Latin
of the dead and their grammar
composed entirely of decay. 

Glory of the eyes of my father
which, when he died, closed
inside his grave,

and opened even more brightly
inside me.

Glory of dark horses
running furiously
inside their own

dark horses.

Copyright © 2020 by Gbenga Adesina. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 25, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

28. It Is Not As If

It is not as if I have not been thinking this,
and it is not as if we have not been thinking this.
For what I mean when I will say whiteness, when I will say white
people, when I say the whites with such seeming assurance,
with such total confidence in the clarity of this locution,
as if we all know the etymology of this word’s genealogy,
the lie of a cluster of marauding nations, building kingdoms
by destroying kingdoms, we have heard this all before, O Babylon.
So, yes, when I say this, what I mean is Babylon, as the Rastas
have constructed the notion, in the way of generosity,
in the way of judgement, in the way of naming the enemy
of history for who he is, in the inadequate way of symbols,
in the way of the bible’s total disregard for history, and the prophet’s
dance in the fulcrum of history, leaping over time and place,
returning to the place where we began having learned
nothing and yet having learned everything language offers us.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this.
And I want to rehearse Thomas Jefferson and the pragmatism
of cost, the wisdom of his loyalty to his family’s wealth,
the seat of the landed aristocrats reinvented on the plains
of the New World, the coat of arms, the courtly ambitions,
the inventions, the art, the bottles of wine, the French tongue,
the legacy, the faux Roman, faux Greek pretension, the envy
of the nobility of native confederacies, their tongues of fire;
the land, the land, the land, and the property of black bodies,
so much to give up, and who bears the sacrifice, who pays
the cost for the preservation of a nation’s ambitions?
How he said no to freeing the bodies he said were indebted
to him for their every breath—the calculus of property;
oh, the rituals of flesh-mongering, the protection of white freedom.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this,
And Bartholomew de las Casas, Bishop of Chiapas,
and his Memorial de Remedios para Las Indias,
the pragmatic use of Africans, the ones to carry the burden
of saving the Indians, to save the white man’s soul—
this little bishop of pragmatic calculation, correcting sins
with more sins. And the bodies of black slave women,
their wombs, studied, tested, reshaped, probed, pierced, tortured,
with the whispered promise: “It will help you, too, it really
will and you will be praised for teaching us how to save
the wombs of white women, for the cause, all for the cause.”
And Roosevelt and his unfinished revolution, O “dream deferred”,
O Langston, you tried to sing, how long, not long, how long,
so long! And Churchill’s rising rhetoric, saying that though cousin
Nazis may ritualize the ancient blood feuds by invading Britain,
her world-wide empire will rise up and pay the price for protecting
the kingdom, the realm, liberty, and so on and so forth. Everyone
so merciful, everyone so wounded with guilt and gratitude,
everyone so pragmatic. It is what I am saying, that I am saying
nothing new, and what I am singing is, Babylon yuh throne gone
down, gone down, / Babylon yuh throne gone down.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this.
For no one is blessed with blindness here,
No one is blessed with deafness here.
And this thing we see is lurking inside the soft
alarm of white people who know that they are watching
a slow magical act of erasure, and they know that this is how
terror manifests itself, quietly, reasonably, and with deadly
intent.  They are letting black people die.  They are letting
black people die in America. Hidden inside the maw
of these hearts, is the sharp pragmatism of the desperate,
the writers of the myth of survival of the fittest,
or the order of the universe, of Platonic logic, the caste system,
the war of the worlds.  They are letting black people die.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
No, it is not as if we have not been thinking this.
And someone is saying, in that soft voice of calm,
“Well, there will be costs, and those are the costs
of our liberty.”  Remember when the century turned,
and the pontiff and pontificators declared that in fifty years,
the nation would be brown, and for a decade, the rogue people
sought to halt this with guns, with terror, with the shutting of borders?
Now this has arrived, a kind of gift.  Let them die.  The blacks,
the poor, the ones who multiply like flies, let them die, and soon
we will be lily white again.  Do you think I am paranoid?  I am.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this.
And paranoia is how we’ve survived.  So, we must march in the streets,
force the black people who are immigrant nurses, who are meat packers,
who are street cleaners, who are short-order cooks, who are
the dregs of society, who are black, who are black, who are black.
Let them die.  Here in Nebraska, our governor would not release
the racial numbers. He says there is no need to cause strife,
this is not our problem, he says. We are better than this, he says.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
It is not as if we have not been thinking this.
And so in the silence, we do not know what the purgation is,
and here in this stumbling prose of mine, this blunt prose of mine,
is the thing I have not yet said, “They are trying to kill us,
they are trying to kill us, they are trying to kill us off.”
I sip my comfort.  The dead prophet, his voice broken by cancer,
his psalm rises over the darkening plains, “Oh yeah, natty Congo”,
and then the sweetest act of pure resistance, “Spread out! Spread out!
Spread out!”  We are more than sand on the seashore, so we will not
get jumpy, we won’t get bumpy, and we won’t walk away, “Spread out!”,
they sing in four-part harmony, spears out, Spread out! Spread out!
It is not as if I have not been thinking this,
and it is not as if we have not been thinking this.
It is how we survived and how we will continue to survive.
But don’t be fooled. These are the betrayals that are gathering
over the hills.  Help me, I say, help me to see this as something else.
It is not as if I have not been thinking this.
See? It is not as if we have not all been thinking this.

KD

29.

It needs to be blunt and said as you say it.
I can see and agree and am trying to act, too,
but am embroiled in the whiteness I detest.
Yes, as a pacifist, I detest that whiteness
and see it as the bleaching of shrouds.
It makes me ashamed and angry and I fall
into nowhere and have no feet and can’t find
my way out of it. My hands are the wrong
shape to hide behind. I see the murderers
and stand in front of them, refusing
everything they are. I am weaponless.
I know guns from my childhood
and know their sick laugh, their
self-certainty, their imitations of ‘sound’—
their chatter. Yes, of course it’s death
they make, even when the target
is a symbol or a bull’s eye—names
say it all, underneath—target shooting,
but it’s not selective at the end of the breathing,
the last bottle of O negative blood, it takes all
in its recoil as much as its impact, it kills
life and it kills death and it is given
an ‘out’ through Keats’s white as death
half in love with easeful death’—
a poem I have recited since I was
sixteen, have recited on the verge of death,
as if it was a way through when it wasn’t.
The poem separated from the hand
that wrote it makes a travesty
of reality—the corpses piling
up in the feint light of whiteness.
The poem was part of the problem
born in the eye of empire, the smell
of hospitals and anatomies, and yet
I lament his terrible tragic passing.
I have stood in his deathroom
and only thought of a young person
and their overwhelming death,
the steps flowing with people
as now they are empty of both
Rome and world. I think the same
in the acts of medicine the acts
of insurance and discrimination,
and those who take the brunt of economies,
especially in Western economies
that live off the labour of re-arranged
and redecorated class alienation.
What you say is true and needs
to be said in such a way, Kwame.
I am saying as an aside to all tyranny,
that using the methods of the tyrannical
will lead to ongoing tyranny. Refusal
to do anything for them, to stop using their goods,
to stop giving them anything at all, will soon     bring their collapse.
Total and utter refusal. But then, they are
even prepared for that—bringing
it all down makes the suffering
suffer more via the pain ‘brought
on themselves.’ That’s tyranny’s propaganda.
     White bigots and the bigotry
implicit in any notion of ‘whiteness’
search for validation even where
it is bluntly refused—they enforce
their validation, legitimise themselves
in every conversation. I guess
that might be what Spike Lee
and Chuck D. have been saying
forever—the very notion 
‘white folk’ have any rights
of control or even say in other
people’s (and peoples’) lives needs
undoing. Your poem helps protect
the vulnerable and thwart the murderous—confront
them with its declarations of blackness,
and that’s as it must be, and you must say,
given the traumatic reality, Kwame.
So I listen to Sly Dunbar
not to absorb into what I have
been made from, but to reflect
against and learn from—to learn
is to respect and not just
be awed and entertained, those
shrouds across creativity,
those thefts as deadly
as going armed
with intent. I have literally
placed flowers in the barrels of guns.
I will stand between the gun
and its victim, I will
bury the arms
deeper than rust,
the corrosion,
beyond even air
of the grave, beyond
anything organic, living.
People are meant
to live! I march with you,
I am with you, I stand by you.
     I am not you. I know.

JK

Copyright © 2020 by Kwame Dawes and John Kinsella. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 11, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Dear Reader, it wouldn’t be a lie if you said poetry was a cover
for my powerlessness, here, on this plane
having ticked off another day waiting for her diagnosis to rise.
As the air pressure picks up, I feel the straight road
curved by darkness, where the curve is a human limit,
where the second verb is mean, the second verb is to blind.
On the other line, my mother sits on her bed
after a terrible infection. Her voice like a wave
breaking through the receiver, when she tells me
that unlike her I revel in the inconclusivity of the body.
+
At the end of the line, I know my mother
accumulates organ-shaped pillows after surgery.
First a heart, then lungs.
The lung pillow is a fleshy-pink. The heart
pillow, a child-drawn metaphor. Both help her expectorate
the costs to the softer places of her body.
After each procedure they make her cross,
the weight of the arm comes down. These souvenirs
of miraculous stuffing other patients on the transplant floor covet,
the way one might long for a paper sack doll made by hand.
Though the stuffing is just wood shavings, one lies
with the doll tight at the crick of an elbow at night.

Copyright © 2020 by April Freely. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 29, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

If space makes the pattern, her absence is filling a quota.

The president says, 
            “we’re a nation of laws” :—
The limerick 
            under her dreaming :—that lilting.
At seven 
            a Seuss-rhyme’s still funny.
            And who’s to say wouldn’t have been, still, at 30?
            The Sneetches or What Was I Scared Of?

She’s seven, asleep on the living room sofa.

     ] in amphibrachs—:
                                    who hears her
                                                            breathing? [

If space makes the pattern, her absence is filling a quota.

                                    This absence—:          Aiyana.

            But what was the officer scared of?
             What reaches for him in the recesses of
            his attention?
            What formal suggestion of
            darkness needs stagger
            to formless?
If space makes the pattern—:
                        egregious—:

                                    This grief in the rhythm of—: uplift too
                        graphic—:
                        a measure of struggle.
Which struggle with law
                                    holds the dark in it? Keeps
                                              the dark of
                                                Quinletta, LaToya, Kimkesia, Oneka, Natasha, Breonna…
                                    my still-breathing cousins
                                                ] your still-breathing cousins [
alive in it.         Aiyana. Her breath in perfection—:
at seven—:      This measure for measure on measure on measure
or else—:


Law is dead, Aiyana. It never was

Copyright © 2020 by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 2, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

State of Florida v. Patrick Gene Scarborough, David Erwin Beagles, Ollie Odell Stoutamire, William Ted Collinsworth, 1959, case #3445.

Later I lower my head to my father’s chest,
the hollow where I hear his heart stop, if stop
meant speed to a stop, if hearts could gasp like a 
a mouth when events stun the heart to a stop
for a moment. His eyes fill with anger
then, collecting himself, he rises up to slump
his shoulders back down. The fists. The eyes.
Nothing can raise up, nothing feels essential,
a black body raising up in the south and all…
To a life starting here, ethereal, yet flesh, and all?
And even if you could, what all good would it do?
The damage and all. Black birds flock, 
dulcet yet mourning, an uproar of need,
a cry of black but blue is not the sky
in which they gender. My God, if life is not pain, 
no birth brought me into this world,
or could life begin here where it ends—
no shelter, no comfort, no ride home—
and must I go on, saying more? Pointing
them out in a court of men? Didn’t
the trees already finger the culprits? Creatures
make a way where there is no way. That way
after I lean into what’s left of me—and must I
(yes, you must) explain, over and over,
how my blood came to rest here—my body,
now labeled evidence, sows what I have yet to say.

Copyright © 2020 by A. Van Jordan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Because there is too much to say
Because I have nothing to say
Because I don’t know what to say
Because everything has been said
Because it hurts too much to say
What can I say what can I say
Something is stuck in my throat
Something is stuck like an apple
Something is stuck like a knife
Something is stuffed like a foot
Something is stuffed like a body

Copyright © 2020 by Toi Derricotte. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 3, 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.

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’m sick and tired of being sick and tired 

           She meant
                      No more turned cheek
                      No more patience for the obstruction
                      of black woman’s right to vote
                      & plant & feed her family

           She meant
                      Equality will cost you your luxurious life
                      If a Black woman can’t vote
                      If a brown baby can’t be fed
                      If we all don’t have the same opportunity America promised

           She meant
                      Ain’t no mountain boulder enough
                      to wan off a determined woman

           She meant
                      Here
           Look at my hands
                      Each palm holds a history
                      of the 16 shots that chased me
                      harm free from a plantation shack

           Look at my eyes
                      Both these are windows
                      these little lights of mine

           She meant
                      Nothing but death can stop me
                      from marching out a jail cell still a free woman

           She meant
                      Nothing but death can stop me from running for Congress

           She meant
                      No black jack beating will stop my feet from working
                      & my heart from swelling
                      & my mouth from praying

           She meant
                      America! you will learn freedom feels like
                      butter beans, potatoes & cotton seeds
                      picked by my sturdy hands

           She meant

           Look
           Victoria Gray, Anna Divine & Me
           In our rightful seats on the house floor

           She meant  
                      Until my children
                      & my children’s children
                      & they babies too
                      can March & vote
                      & get back in interest
                      what was planted
                      in this blessed land

           She meant
                      I ain’t stopping America
                      I ain’t stopping America

Not even death can take away from my woman’s hands
what I’ve rightfully earned

Copyright © 2019 by Mahogany Browne. Originally featured in Vibe. Used with permission of the author. 

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.

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.

"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.

                              —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.

after Margaret Walker’s “For My People”

The Lord clings to my hands
             after a night of shouting.
                           The Lord stands on my roof
             & sleeps in my bed.
Sings the darkened, Egun tunnel—
             cooks my food in abundance,
                           though I was once foolish
             & wished for an emptied stomach.
The Lord drapes me with rolls of fat
             & plaits my hair with sanity.
                           Gives me air,
             music from unremembered fever.
This air

                                         oh that i may give air to my people
                                         oh interruption of murder
                                         the welcome Selah

The Lord is a green, Tubman escape.
             A street buzzing with concern,
                           minds discarding answers.
             Black feet on a centuries-long journey.
The Lord is the dead one scratching my face,
             pinching me in dreams.
                           The screaming of the little girl that I was,
             the rocking of the little girl that I was—
the sweet hush of her healing.
             Her syllables
                           skipping on homesick pink.
             I pray to my God of confused love,
a toe touching blood
             & swimming through Moses-water.
                           A cloth & wise rocking.
             An eventual Passover,
outlined skeletons will sing
             this day of air
                           for my people—

                                         oh the roar of God
                                         oh our prophesied walking

Copyright © 2020 by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 17, 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.

Will the new aunt Jemima have dreads?
Why did Susan Smith kill her children and blame a black man?
Would a black man hang himself from a tree with his backpack still on?
Is it justice or revenge we are seeking?
What does justice look like?
What else can I do to feel safe?
Several times a day I stab my fingertips to threads
Looking for something more than blood as a reminder of life
An angry rain whips the window
We lay quiet in bed
Invite Kimiko Hahn to serenade us with her new poems
When she's done   my lover says
Give me something   something to munch on
I offer her my wrist.

Copyright © 2020 by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The train came with a police officer
on his gun. He shifts his weight
against the door. A flash back loads
the first time a service weapon was pulled in my face;
the second time it made me lay on the ground;
the third time it put my hands in the air; the fourth time
it pushed me against a wall; the fifth time
it told me it was just doing its job; the sixth time
it kicked my feet apart; the seventh time
it followed me home; the eighth time it grabbed my shirt collar.

Read the signs: it’s illegal to move
between cars.

Read the signs; my body knows
how Klan-rally a cop’s gun feels at eye level.

The ninth time the barrel cocked its head;
the tenth time, it told me it missed me
the last time; it said, burning black bodies is a tradition
it was raised on; the eleventh time the safety and trigger argued
through a range of black fiction. I could’ve been
any made-up one of us: Ricky or Wee-Bey
Mad Max or Tray; we all look the same under the right racism
anyway; the twelfth time it dared me to swing; the thirteenth time
I thought about it; the fourteenth time, I almost did it;
the fifteenth time, there were no cellphones; the sixteenth time
just covered badges; the seventeenth time
it searched me for the broken laws it thought I was;
the eighteenth time I assumed the position without anything
being said.

Copyright © 2020 by Jive Poetic. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 20, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

I think of a good night’s sleep
an exhale taking its precious time

to leave my lungs         unworried
about the breathing to come       If only

I did not hail from the sweet state
of panic                               the town’s river,

my adrenaline raging without cease
I’d love peace but the moon is pulling me by my water

I know this is no way to live     but I was born here
a mobile of vultures orbiting above my crib

the noise you speak      bragging
about the luxury of your stillness

reminds me that some children are told to pick flowers
while others are told to pick a tree switch

that’ll best write a lesson across their hide
and my skin is a master course written in welts

I touch myself and read about the years
I cannot escape                              I hold my kids

and pray our embrace is not a history
repeating itself

Copyright © 2020 by Rasheed Copeland. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 22, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

on the days the dark is vanta vicious
enough to swallow whole every holy
thing like my mother and the stigmata
she bleeds from a totem of raising black

on the days the cold is cold as all get out but
there’s no place to get in when even breath is
blade and hurts to think of thinking of breathing
let alone laughing

on the days I feel frayed and ‘fraid ripped
and torn from the lot plucked from family
and ‘nem and even myself sometimes my
name is the name of a stranger

my face still the face in the hole of a
hoodie just snatched out my own world
never mine and dragged and scraped
across the rough textured parts of this
being alive thing

i’m reminded of what it feels
like to have my head alight to
have it catch fire and blaze-lick
high above me and all this

i’m reminded to return to the truth that oh
yeah me my little self a match my little
self a cardboard cutout might could burn
this whole so-called kingdom down

Copyright © 2020 by Jason Reynolds. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 28, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

everything i do comes down to the fact that i’ve been here before.
in some arrangement of my atoms i was allowed to be free
so don’t ask me when freedom is coming
when a certain eye of mine has seen it,
a cornea in a convoluted future recalls my freedom.
when asked about the absence of freedom, the lack of it
i laugh at the word absence, which always suggests
a presence that has left. but absence is the arena
of death, and we call the dead free (went on to glory), what
is the absence of freedom but an assumption of it?
i have never longed for something
which was not once mine. even fiction is my possession,
and flight is an act of fleeing as much as an act of flying.

Copyright © 2020 by Kara Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 3, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I go to the railroad tracks
And follow them to the station of my enemies

A cobalt-toothed man pitches pennies
at my mugshot negative

All over the united states, there are
Toddlers in the rock

I see why everyone out here
got in the big cosmic basket
And why blood agreements mean a lot
And why I get shot back at

I understand the psycho-spiritual refusal
to write white history or take the glass freeway

White skin tattooed on my right forearm
Ricochet sewage near where I collapsed
into a rat-infested manhood

My new existence as living graffiti

In the kitchen with
a lot of gun cylinders to hack up
House of God in part
No cops in part

My body brings down the Christmas

The new bullets pray over blankets made from old bullets

Pray over the 28th hour’s next beauty mark

Extrajudicial confederate statue restoration
the waist band before the next protest poster

By the way,
Time is not an illusion, your honor
I will save your desk for last
You are witty, your honor
You’re moving money again, your honor

It is only raining one thing: non-white cops

And prison guard shadows
Reminding me of
Spoiled milk floating on an oil spill

A neighborhood making a lot of fuss over its demise

A new lake for a Black Panther Party

Malcom X’s ballroom jacket slung over my son’s shoulders
The figment of village
a noon noose to a new white preacher
             -All in an abstract painting of a president

Bought slavers some time, didn’t it?
The tantric screeches of military bolts and Election-Tuesday cars

A cold-blooded study in leg irons

Proof that some white people have actually fondled nooses
             That sundown couples
             made their vows of love over
                        opaque peach plastic
                        and bolt action audiences      

Man, the Medgar Evers-second is definitely my favorite law of science

Fondled news clippings and primitive Methodists

My arm changes imperialisms
Simple policing vs. Structural frenzies
Elementary school script vs. Even whiter white spectrums

Artless bleeding and
the challenge of watching civilians think

“terrible rituals they have around the corner.
They let their elders beg for public mercy”

“I am going to go ahead and sharpen these kids’ heads
into arrows myself and see
how much gravy spills out of family crests.”

Modern fans of war
              What with their t-shirt poems
              And t-shirt guilt

And me, having on the cheapest pair of shoes on the bus,
I have no choice but to read the city walls for signs of my life

Copyright © 2020 by Tongo Eisen-Martin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 31, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I am hovering over this rug
with a hair dryer on high in my hand
I have finally, inevitably, spilled
red wine on this impractically white
housewarming hand-me-down from my cousin, who
clearly, and incorrectly, thought this was a good idea

With the help of a little panic,
sparkling water and a washcloth,
I am stunned by how quickly the wine washes out,
how I was sure this mistake would find me
every day with its gaping mouth, reminding me
of my own propensity for failure
and yet, here I am
with this clean slate

The rug is made of fur,
which means it died
to be here

It reminds me of my own survival
and everyone who has taught me
to shake loose the shadow of death

I think of inheritance, how this rug
was passed on to me through blood,
how this animal gave its blood
so that I may receive the gift of its death
and be grateful for it

I think of our inability
to control stories of origin
how history does not wash away
with water and a good scrub 

I think of evolution,
what it means to make it through
this world with your skin intact,
how flesh is fragile
but makes a needle and thread
of itself when necessary

I think of all that I have inherited,
all the bodies buried for me to be here
and stay here, how I was born with grief
and gratitude in my bones

And I think of legacy,
how I come from a long line of sorcerers
who make good work of building
joy from absolutely nothing

And what can I do with that
but pour another glass,
thank the stars
for this sorceress blood
and keep pressing forward

Copyright © 2020 by L. Ash Williams. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

If you end your crusades for the great race,  

then I will end my reenactments of flying, 

and if you lean down to smell a painted trillium, 

then I will cast a closer eye on those amber waves,  

and if you stop killing black children,  

then I will turn my drums to the sea and away from  

your wounded mountains. Who mothered your love of death? 

Here is a heart-shaped stone to rub when you feel fear rising; 

give me anything, an empty can of Pabst, a plastic souvenir, a t-shirt from Daytona.  

Here is a first edition: The Complete Poems of Lucille Clifton.  

Give me an ancient grove and a conversation by a creek, charms  

to salve my griefs, something that says you are human, 

and I will give you the laughter in my brain and the tranquil eyes of my uncles.  

Show me your grin in the middle of winter. 

In the eighties we did the wop; you, too, have your dances.  

It is like stealing light from a flash in the sky. I promise:  

no one is blaming you. No one is trying to replace you. 

It’s just that you are carrying a tainted clock calling it European History

standing in khakis, eyes frightened like a mess of beetles. 

Copyright © 2020 by Major Jackson. Originally published with the Shelter in Poems initiative on poets.org.

Now and then the phone will ring and it will be
someone from my youth. The voice of a favorite cousin
stretched across many miles sounding exactly as she always has:
that trained concentration of one who stutters—
the slight hesitations, the drawn-out syllables,
the occasional lapse into a stammer.

When asked, she says my aunt is well for her age but
she forgets. I remember the last time I saw my aunt—
leaning on her cane, skin smooth as river rock,
mahogany brown, gray hair braided into two plaits
stretched atop her head and held in place
with black bobby pins.

She called to say James Lee has died. And did I know
Aunt Mary, who had four crippled children
and went blind after uncle Benny died, died last year?

I did not.

We wander back awhile, reminding and remembering:

Me under the streetlight outside our front yard
face buried in the crook of my arm held close
to the telephone pole as I closed my eyes and sang the words:
Last night, night before, twenty-four robbers at my door
I got up to let them in... hit ‘em in the head with a rolling pin,
then counted up to ten while they ran and hid.

Visiting the graves of grandparents I never knew.
Placing blush-pink peonies my father grew and cut
for the occasion into mason jars. Saying nothing.
Simply staring at the way our lives come down
to a concrete slab.

Copyright © 2020 by Rhonda Ward. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

She said, I wish I prayed, I would pray for you. And,

we all wanted a shape of prayer in our brains, taking over

instead of it chomping on itself. Stupid little elf. God has

never come to me. We surrender in the teeming utterance

of materials soaked with sentences already made in air

and by machines. The country says Freedom, crushed under

its own dream weight. I did not make up this song. Design

Within Reach is having a “Work from home sale.” The coming

apart, the giant laceration across the sky, we all feel it. Look

at the fire, look at it, like all the rage of all the smallest beings.

Copyright © 2020 by Dawn Lundy Martin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 6, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Last night I asked my mother to cornrow my hair
A skill I had been practicing since last summer
But always ended with a tumbleweed excuse of a braid

My black has always resided in braids
In tango fingers that work through tangles
Translating geometry from hands to head

For years my hair was cultivated into valleys and hills
That refused to be ironed out with a brush held in my hand
I have depended on my mother to make them plains

I am 18 and still sit between my mother’s knees
I still welcome the cracks of her knuckles in my ears
They whisper to me and tell me the secret of youth

I want to be 30 sitting between my mother’s knees
Her fingers keeping us both young while organizing my hair
I never want to flatten the hills by myself
I want the brush in her hand forever

Copyright © 2020 by Micah Daniels. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

i have diver’s lungs from holding my
breath for so long. i promise you
i am not trying to break a record
sometimes i just forget to
exhale. my shoulders held tightly
near my neck, i am a ball of tense
living, a tumbleweed with steel-toed
boots. i can’t remember the last time
i felt light as dandelion. i can’t remember
the last time i took the sweetness in
& my diaphragm expanded into song.
they tell me breathing is everything,
meaning if i breathe right i can live to be
ancient. i’ll grow a soft furry tail or be
telekinetic something powerful enough
to heal the world. i swear i thought
the last time i’d think of death with breath
was that balmy day in july when the cops
became a raging fire & sucked the breath
out of Garner; but yesterday i walked
38 blocks to my father’s house with a mask
over my nose & mouth, the sweat dripping
off my chin only to get caught in fabric & pool up
like rain. & i inhaled small spurts of me, little
particles of my dna. i took into body my own self
& thought i’d die from so much exposure
to my own bereavement—they’re saying
this virus takes your breath away, not
like a mother’s love or like a good kiss
from your lover’s soft mouth but like the police
it can kill you fast or slow; dealer’s choice.
a pallbearer carrying your body without a casket.
they say it’s so contagious it could be quite
breathtaking. so persistent it might as well
be breathing                        down your neck—

Copyright © 2020 by Yesenia Montilla. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Black Mamas stay on their knees praying. Cursing
the lies folks tell ‘bout how the world don’t need you—

“The world don’t need you” is a lie folks tell themselves
when they step over blood gelled black and slick.

Folks step over black blood gelled and slick to get
on with things—don’t bring bones to the cemetery.

Bones in the cemetery, hear the prophecy:
—together, bone to bone—tendons and flesh—skin—

bone to bone—tendons and flesh—skin—together,
four winds breathe into these slain, that they may live—

—breathe, four winds, into these slain. That they may live—
Calling forth prophecy is no light work, No—

but, for Joshua, the sun stood still—the moon stopped.
Black Mamas stay on your knees praying—praying—

Copyright © 2020 by Antoinette Brim-Bell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 11, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

My brother was a dark-skinned boy
with a sweet tooth, a smart mouth,
and a wicked thirst. At seventeen,
when I left him for America, his voice
was staticked with approaching adulthood,
he ate everything in the house, grew
what felt like an inch a day, and wore
his favorite shirt until mom disappeared it.
Tonight I’m grateful he slaked his thirst
in another country, far from this place
where a black boy’s being calls like crosshairs
to conscienceless men with guns and conviction.

I remember my brother’s ashy knees
and legs, how many errands he ran on them
up and down roads belonging to no one
and every one. And I’m grateful
he was a boy in a country of black boys,
in the time of walks to the store
on Aunty Marge’s corner to buy contraband
sweeties and sweetdrinks with change
snuck from mom’s handbag or dad’s wallet—
how that was a black boy’s biggest transgression,
and so far from fatal it feels an un-American dream.

Tonight, I think of my brother
as a black boy’s lifeless body spins me
into something like prayer—a keening
for the boy who went down the road, then
went down fighting, then went down dead.
My brother was a boy in the time of fistfights
he couldn’t win and that couldn’t stop
him slinging his weapon tongue anyway,
was a boy who went down fighting,
and got back up wearing his black eye
like a trophy. My brother who got up,
who grew up, who got to keep growing.

Tonight I am mourning the black boys
who are not my brother and who are
my brothers. I am mourning the boys
who walk the wrong roads, which is any road
in America. Tonight I am mourning
the death warrant hate has made of their skin—
black and bursting with such ordinary
hungers and thirsts, such abundant frailty,
such constellations of possibility, our boys
who might become men if this world spared them,
if it could see them whole—boys, men, brothers—human.

Copyright © 2020 by Lauren K. Alleyne. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I find an upscale bistro with a big screen at the bar.
The Williams Sisters will step out on to this Center Court,
for the very first time as a team. I celebrate the event
with my very first Cosmopolitan. I feel like a kid

watching TV in the Before Times: miraculously, Nat King Cole or
Pearl Bailey would appear on the Dinah Shore Show or Ed Sullivan.
Amazed, we’d run to the phone, call up the aunts and cousins.
Quick! Turn on Channel 10!... Three minutes of pride...

Smiling at no one in particular, I settle in to enjoy the match.
What is the commentator saying? He thinks it’s important
to describe their opponents to us: one is “dark,”
the other “blonde.” He just can’t bring himself to say:

Venus & Serena. Look at these two Classy Sisters:
Serious. Strategic. Black. Pounding History.

Copyright © 2020 by Kate Rushin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 13, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

The summer I was ten a teenager
named Kim butterflied my hair. Cornrows
curling into braids 
behind each ear.

Everybody’s wearing this style now, Kim said.

Who could try to tell me
I wasn’t beautiful. The magic
in something as once ordinary
as hair that for too long 
had not been good enough
now winged and amazing 
now connected 

to a long line of crowns.

Now connected
to a long line of girls
moving through Brooklyn with our heads
held so high, our necks ached. You must 
know this too – that feeling 

of being so much more than
you once believed yourself to be

so much more than your
too-skinny arms
and too-big feet and
too-long fingers and
too-thick and stubborn hair

All of us now
suddenly seen
the trick mirror that had us believe
we weren’t truly beautiful
suddenly shifts

and there we are

and there we are

and there we are again

and Oh! How could we not have seen
ourselves before? So much more

We are so much more.

Copyright © 2020 by Jacqueline Woodson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 12, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

MEET KIRSTEN. Wears milkmaid braids to conserve her swedish past. Relinquished herself to assimilation at 8 after saying bye to her bff Singing Bird, whose tribe was forced off their land. “1854 was a wild year for me, guys. Cancel culture is real, but how could I disown my family for the racist things they say? How could I even point out that the things they say are racist? Like, how could I even say ‘Can you consider the words coming out of your mouth & never say them again?’” 

MEET MOLLY. Buys baguettes on mondays and wears a beret literally everywhere. Obsessed with hollywood films and harsh realities. Surprisingly patriotic despite her love of all things british, especially plaid. An expert on taking up space. When the trainer asks if anyone can define discrimination, she pulls out a legal pad “I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been discriminated against because I’m a woman. I write literally every instance down as proof. Exactly how many hours do we have?”

MEET SAMANTHA. 25-year-old well-meaning rule lover who enjoys progress and satin. Would like to be a painter or possibly the president of the united states of america. Out of the two AMA questions received before the training, both came from her. One for each black person she’s ever talked to in her life. “1) This is more of a comment than anything, but I don’t understand why I can’t be curious about Addy’s hair 2) Remind me again, what’s the difference between equality and equity?”

MEET FELICITY. Wears wide brim hats for horse races and can stitch the shit out of anything. Makes a mean southern sweet tea just like her mommy used to in the old virginia colony. When the diversity trainer asks if anyone can recall a time in their lives when they’ve been racist, she has a hard time pinning down just one time. “Sure I could, but I’d rather focus on rescuing horses from alopecia than spend a few hours at this dumb-ass training. Honestly, who has the time for any of this?”

MEET ADDY. Just look at all these dolls crying, complaining and getting paid for it all. Meanwhile hot girl summer came and left and I’m still stuck here performing history. Imma just slap the next bitch who tries to buy me. The scholars who brought me to life built the best american story but forgot two key facts. 1) I’m tired of being sold  2) less than half the people who buy me actually listen. But if I raised my hand right now & asked “Do I really need to be here?” you think my boss would just let me leave? 

Copyright © 2020 by Kortney Morrow. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

“...The straitjackets of race prejudice and discrimination do not wear only southern labels. The subtle, psychological technique of the North has approached in its ugliness and victimization of the Negro the outright terror and open brutality of the South.”
            ― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can't Wait (Beacon Press, 2011)

                      this       here       the      cradle      of      this      here
                      nation—everywhere  you   look,  roots   run   right
                      back  south.  every  vein filled with red dirt, blood,
                      cotton.   we   the   dirty  word  you  spit  out   your
                      mouth.  mason  dixon  is  an  imagined  line—you
                      can  theorize  it, or wish it real, but  it’s  the  same
                      old  ghost—see-through,   benign.   all   y’all  from
                      alabama;  we  the wheel  turning  cotton  to make
                      the nation move. we the scapegoat in a land built
                      from death. no longitude or latitude disproves
                      the truth of founding fathers’ sacred oath:
                                 we hold these truths like dark snuff in our jaw,
                                 Black oppression’s not happenstance; it’s law.

Copyright © 2020 by Ashley M. Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

after June Jordan

Nightly my enemies feast on my comrades
like maggots on money. Money being my enemy

as plastic is my enemy. My enemy everywhere
and in my home as wifi is

a money for me to reach my comrades
and kills my house plants. My enemy

is distance growing dark, distance growing
politely in my pocket as connection.

I must become something my enemies can’t eat, don’t have
a word for yet, my enemies being literate as a drone is

well-read and precise and quiet, as when I buy something
such as a new computer with which to sing against my enemies,
there is my enemy, silent and personal.

Copyright © 2020 by Taylor Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Lord—
Your good daughter I have been
my whole life.

I’ve kept your house
clean as sucked bone,

starved myself of everything
your other children have told me is sin.

I’ve sharpened my teeth on the slate
of your Word for your work’s sake.

Bridled the glint of my tongue
so men will feel strong

and not be seen trembling
under the soft of it.

I’ve behaved

and for what
do I hunger, myself growing slight
on tomorrow’s meat:

words, words, your words
as valued here as Black credit
at an all-American bank.

They say, Lord, piety is speaking to you,
but madness is hearing you

speak back. And under this,
like all good jokes lies
the truth: no one

in this equation seems to be listening
anyway. To you, to our own damned selves.
Tell me

how many Black girls
does it take to change a mind,
or a home           or a block
or a scale            or a heart
or a course          or a country?

You, Lord, as you have
with your other minor prophets,
have dragged—or is it called us

up the mountain, where in the thin air
there are those who got here
long before I ever dreamed of it,

still waiting on you
to finally cash this check.

Copyright © 2020 by Natasha Oladokun. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 20, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Alexander Pushkin

Did anyone ever ask any one of Nikita’s daughters
if they wanted a vagina from the devil’s basket.
conjured by a witch and stored with so little ice.
an organ that had been ridden cross-country on
horseback. had no mind of its own and had flown
up into the trees with all thirty-nine to get stuck up
in the leaves. Clearly not queer at all given that it flew
down at the site of any old whatsit. and furthermore
not even to fuck it, just to crawl back into a box
like the whatsit wanted of the crew of thingums. Witch
only knows how many grimy fingers the poor things
endured. No one asked the tzar’s daughters
if they wouldn’t rather be holeless, lipless and better
unbewitched by devil and hag and flasher
envoy and kingly pop than to lift their skirts
to anyone wanting to see what was missing. or unmissed.

Copyright © 2020 by francine j. harris. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

“I’m gonna put on an iron shirt and chase the devil out of earth.”
            — Lee “Scratch” Perry and Max Romeo

Side A.

The devil I see is the one I saw and nail out of fears   out of cycles of wound   dread calcifying into prophecy    I put on an iron shirt to face it chase it but the cop still piss drunk with power I put on an iron shirt but the men on the street surveil the nipple   been hounding my punani since             before I spilled my first blood   what a menace of a body   I hurl blame to the husk   is the devil real or is it of my fantastical making  the answer is not the matter   the fact of paranoia be the true violence   warfare: the very presence of the question        I want to peer inward   to take a good look at the soundsystem     my heartbeat echoing out of my folkloric thirst   my desperate belief in other realities   a B-side where I’m abolished from emotional labor aka black woman’s burden  free to surrender to my own madness  to sink down into the dub of it   stripped of my first voice   reverbing outside the pain of a body—



Side B.

            stripped of my first voice    

 

                                               down in the dub            cop hounds my blood    

into paranoia           a black reality            

 

                                                                      cycles spilled    

 

                 power husked   
                                                                                         emotional woman I   I

I iron                            real street               folkloric and mad  
                                                                                       tr tr trrrruuuueeee  

 

take a good look at the devil

                                                     peer into the dread   

men surrender to wound: drunk        calcified                                          but I   

                        fantastic                 
                                                          chasing echoes       

 

 nailed to system                                            free in sound

 

                                        I       a fact      

 


                                                             answer of my own making


 

*To read this poem in its intended format, please view from a desktop. 

Copyright © 2020 by Desiree C. Bailey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

             1.
Pained as he was when he gazed 
upon his father’s face, he held his gaze.

             2.
Toward what he’d never known, he walked,
somehow both arrogant & begging.

The purple of his father’s robes, like a bruise. 

             3.
As a river, over time, can forge
a way through stone, so
absence bore through him,
leaving a valley where his voice
echoes off the canyon walls. 

             4.
His mind had narrowed until all it held
was an idea of father, until so fixed on the idea
his mind seemed under siege. Inside him hummed
a longing, one he felt compelled to fix, so named it ​flaw.

             5.
What the boy wanted:
to finally know his father’s face.
Evidence, at last, of his origin. 

             6.
Felt within, a longing.
Felt and therefore knew
a weakness he wanted to master. 

             7.
A desire to know, and a belief
he deserved to,

these were the human parts of him.

             8. 
Fiery, Dawnsteed, Scorcher, Blaze–

the horses the father owned,

the horses the father, knowing he would fail, let his son steer–

             9.
is this devotion?

             10.
To master, control, rein in;
hoping this might prove him 
a man, perhaps, a god.

             11.
There are gaps knowing cannot fill.

             12.
What boy has not dreamt himself a noble son,
has not prematurely thought himself a man?

             13.
                           He lost control of the reins
& the horses did what one expects
from animals whose lives had always been 
tightly squeezed between two fists:

             14.
breaking from the path they’d always known,

             15.
they galloped nearer to that world from which they’d been kept, 

             16.
not out of malice but a kind of mercy

             17.
for the world the father feared the horses would destroy.

             18.
Finding himself at the mercy of what he’d sought–

             19.
gone too far to turn back, gone far beyond his father now
with further still to go, ignorant of the names
of the horses behind whom he was now dragged like the tail
of a comet hurtling toward earth, as in all directions
he sees the destruction he’d caused:

the flames licking trees at their roots, licking
dry the ocean’s mouth, licking the faces
of each living thing until they’d turned to ash,

until the world without grew hotter than the world within,
until a dizzying heat rose from the soil, until in his feet

             20.
the boy could feel the world ablaze–

             21.
free me from these reins
he cried perhaps to god, 
perhaps to father, 

             22.
the difference indecipherable, more or less insignificant

             23.
for even though he’d met him, the boy still knew himself

             24.
fatherless, godless, no less abandoned than he’d been.

             25.
The world to which, for better or worse, he once belonged, now gone, 

             26.
he belonged nowhere… 

             27.
To save what could be saved, to salvage what had not been lost,
to punish his failure to master what no other ever had: the boy

             28.
was struck dead & buried

             29.
beside a river, which began again to flow toward the distant mouth 

             30.
out of which, it would finally empty.

Copyright © 2020 by Jeremy Michael Clark. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I want to believe Don West
when he writes: none of mine

ever made their living by driving slaves.
But in my grandfather’s mouth that utterance

would’ve taken on another meaning:
In the memory my mother shares,

he is flitting across Louisville
in his taxi, passing back-and-forth

like a cardinal, red-faced, proud-breasted,
delivering Black folks their dry cleaning—

had to, she tells me, as part of his route—
but once he started his second shift and turned

on the cab light, he wouldn’t accept
Black fare. I recall him reciting

the early presidents’
racist pseudoscience—American

at its liver—to rationalize his hatred
of my father, his denial

of my Blackness. That denial a peril
I survived, a cliff he could have driven me over

at any moment of my childhood. Maybe,
I want to think, because they were poor men

who labored, farmed tobacco and dug for oil,
my grandfather’s people resisted

slavery, felt a kinship with my father’s people.
Or that because my grandfather

was one of eleven mouths to feed
on their homestead—reduced to dirt

across the Great Depression—
he had a white identity to be proud of, a legacy

that didn’t join our names
in a bill of sale, but in struggle.

I search his surname and it travels
back to Germany, appears

on the deed to the house he inherited,
retired and died in, poor-white resentment

inflaming his stomach and liver.
But when I search the name I share with my father,

my only inheritance                      disappears
into the 19th century, sixth generation:

my ancestor bred
to produce 248 offspring

for his owner, from whence comes
our family name. Mr. West, here

we are different. Here, is where
my grandfather found his love for me discordant

as the voice of the dead whispering
history. Here is where we are connected,

not by class, but blood & slavery.

Copyright © 2020 by Joy Priest. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

They call. They message.

Then the occasional tag on social media.
I am wanting to check in on you… We
are thinking of you… I am so so sorry…

Then                  there                  I go
again                  pounding my head
sifting through thick
                            air
scattering names on a dusty floor

It is morning. It is the afternoon, maybe
the middle of some God-awful hour. I was

calm. I was hunkered low, shades drawn
maybe sipping a tea

                                                    No one
should see me    pacing kitchen

to porch

                                                 to bedroom

grabbing at lint or         shaking my wrist
                    in the mirror

                                                     Don’t call
don’t remind me there are soldiers

tramping on my lawn with gas
                                        and pepper spray.
I’ve just laid the sheets tight in my bed.
I’ve just trimmed the plants.
                                              And you are so white
and fragile with your checking. You are so late
so late so late.

Copyright © 2020 by Nandi Comer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I am liberated and focused today
on what it means to govern myself.

I am not watching the news
or wearing a bra.

I will not question America
or ask where it was last night.

I went to bed with a cold fact
With no cuddling, after.

Today, God I want nothing
not even the love I have been praying for.

On the train, I won’t offer
anyone my seat.

No one ever moves for me
Some days, not even the wind.

Today, I will be like the flag
that never waves.

At work, I will be black
and I will act like it.

They will mispronounce my name
And this time I won’t answer.

I will sit at my desk with my legs open
and my mind crossed.

Copyright © 2020 by Starr Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 31, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

She needs to eat. She needs
to keep something warm in
her stomach. I reheat rice on the stove,
some cabbage and smoked salmon
and bring it to her in bed.
Like a widow, she chews the end
of a bone already buried. Ignores
the plate. I make her sit up anyways
adjust just before she spits
her last meal into my hands. Warm,
half-digested ghost.

Downstairs in the kitchen
I’ll eat from this plate, the white grains
cold and dead, pinched in my fingers’
tight grip, raised to a mouth
emptied—already open.
And I’ll try to—no, I will,
I’ll keep it down.

Copyright © 2020 by Charleen McClure. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 1, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Call me lagahoo, soucouyant. Call me other.
I came ravenous: mongoose consuming
fresh landscapes until I made myself

new species of the Indies.
Christen me how you wish, my muzzle
matted with blood of fresh invertebrates.

I disappear your problems
without thought to consequence.
Call me Obeah. Watch me cut

through cane, chase
sugar-hungry rats. Giggling
at mating season, I grow fat

multiples, litters thick as tropic air.
Don’t you find me beautiful? My soft animal
features, this body streamlined ruthless,

claws that won’t retract. You desire them.
You never ask me what I want. I take
your chickens, your iguana,

you watch me and wonder
when you will be outnumbered.
My offspring stalking your village,

ecosystems uprooted, roosts
swallowed whole.
I am not native. Not domesticated.

I am naturalized, resistant
to snake venoms, your colony’s toxins—
everything you brought me to,

this land. I chew and spit back
reptile and bird bone
prophecy strewn across stones.

Copyright © 2020 by Daria-Ann Martineau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

notice now pictures of awful things on top our head
the freight that barricades this view, how enough
how the law batter down the dogged tide we make
the world shoring its dark scars between seasons
as though to hold it together only by a flame
is here a voice to please enough the blunt
borderlessness of this grief turning our heads to rubble
the lunacy of nothing so limning as death in the streets
in these vibrating hours where the corners talk back
need I simply run my tongue along the granite sky and live

to know how lost the millionth life somewhere today
the swift shape of roads new names combust, the sum
of anthems flooding the world with the eye’s sudden and narrow
saltwater and streets ziplined with screams at the pitch of cooking pots
then tear gas, then pepper spray, then militarized lies unzipping
body bags, oh, our many many there, our alive and just born,
and that is how to say let’s fuck it up, we the beat and we the loud
tuning forks and the help arriving empty-handed
propping the hot news of new times on our head

days like these pleat whatever the hollow year must offer
between the not-yet-dead and those just waking up
it will not be the vanished thing that we remember
it will be what we exchanged close to midnight
like smugglers high-wiring the city, hoarding the thoughts
of ours we interrupted midway to discovering the velocity
of the burning world below
of our language in the lateness of our stuck and reckless love

where the forces who claim they love us
level our lives to crust—the centuries-wide dance
of swapped shackles for knees
their batons and miscellany
thrown at our whole lives demanding our mothers
raise from their separate rooms, separate graves, today
to save who and me? I open the book to a naked page
where nothing clatter my heart, what head
what teeth cling to broadside, roll alias after
alias with a pen at their dull tribunes and shrines
imagine our heirlooms of shot nerves make a life
given to placards and synergies and elegies, but more

last things: where letters here where snow in May
where the millennium unstitches the quartered earth
in June, how many today to the viral fire
the frosted rich and their forts, but not
the fulsome rage of my people unpeaced
mute boots with somber looks appear
a fearsome autumn ending spring, though we still hear

I dare not sing

another song to dig a hole this time for the lineages
of magnolias where the offspring bring a hand to cover
our mouth, our heaping lives, who sit who burn who drop
three feet to the tar, who eat and demolish the thing
that takes our head, the thing that is no more
the place that never was except a burning learned

just once and not again when the darker working’s race

Copyright © 2020 by Canisia Lubrin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

For Laquan McDonald

I think it’s quails lining the road but it's fallen Birchwood.

What look like white clouds in a grassy basin, sprinklers.

I mistake the woman walking her retriever as a pair of fawns.

Could-be animals. Unexplained weather. Maybe they see us

that way. Knowing better, the closer they get. Not quite ready to let it go.

Copyright © 2020 by Rio Cortez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

what it sounds like is a bird breaking small bones against glass. the least of them, a sparrow, of course. you’re about to serve dinner and this is the scene. blame the bird, the impertinent windows, try not to think of the inconvenience of blood splattering violet in the dusk. how can you eat after this? do not think of whom to blame when the least of us hurdles into the next moment. a pane opening into another. the least of us spoiling your meal.

~

the smell of it will be smoke and rank. you will mutter about this for days, the injustice of splatter on your window. foolish bird. civilization. house with the view. fucking bird feeder. it will take you a week, while the flesh starts to rot under thinning feathers, while the blood has congealed and stuck, for you to realize that no one is coming to take the body. it is your dead bird. it is your glass. you have options you think. hire out. move out. leave it for the bigger blacker birds.

~

you will taste rotting just above the top of your tongue. so much, that you check yourself to make sure that it is not you. the bird deserves something. you go to the closet, pick out a shoe box. discount? designer? you start to think of how it has come to this: pondering your mortality through a bird. a dead bird. never-mind. you don’t find it a problem not running into windows.

~

it is an eyesore and we start to gather as large billows in your yard. you marvel at us, beautiful, collecting and loosening our dark bodies from white sky to your grass. and then it comes. more bones and blood. one by one crashing into the closed pane. mindless birds. brown and gray feathers. filthy pests. another. fucking feeder. we look like billions lifting into flight and then—shatter.

~

you might find a delicate humility in the art of cleaning glass. while you work, you sustain tiny slivers of opened flesh. tips of your fingers sing. shards, carnage, it has become too much. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you call a repairman. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you throw everything into big shiny trash bags. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you consider french doors. you are careful to pick up all that you can see and find more with each barefoot trip through your bloodbath house.

Copyright © 2020 by Bettina Judd. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 7, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

You arrive on a Friday, with hail & vast
moving grey above small window
of white light, as a wound
which might be a passing through
of particulate ultra violet waiting
to arrive in sight, our adjectival
see. will it be violent, our photographic
ring around the light?

we inviolate what we can’t see,
revelate its arrival with our question:
boy or girl?

please, let the unseen speak in me.
there are stellar nurseries we cannot grimace.
i am a certificate of a bright somewhere.
you are a poem passing through
the membranes i have moved, mountainous you,
head up-of the interrogative blue

Copyright © 2020 by Jasmine Reid. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 9, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

You go outside and the trees don’t know
You’re black. The lilacs will chatter and break
Themselves real bloom, real boon,
No matter your gender. You matter.
Who in you is most material, so
You matter. Your afro gone touch the sky.
Come up from the ground looking extra fly,
Come up from the ground looking extra, fly,
I will touch the sky. I—open my mouth,
And my whole life falls out.

Copyright © 2020 by Rickey Laurentiis. Originally published with the Shelter in Poems initiative on poets.org

To call oneself African (here) means, simply, the rejection of a view of self as mired in double consciousness. It is to imagine (or know—or avow, finally) one’s consciousness as that of the African’s untainted by the European encounter.
                                                             *  *  *

Think back, say 180 years: The slip, slippage…of thinking as someone free (thinking one’s self free to think, to be) and the cruel knock of the master or mistress insisting that you are object, abject…that what has slipped from your unguarded thoughts is aberration and must be nullified swiftly, permanently

                    You have been made to know at all costs—short of a kind of useless dysfunction—that yours is not to think, muse, contemplate. Your mind must be tabula rasa…your will nonexistent—except what is given you by others to be or do. The sharp eye or blunt iron or cutting whip has told you so.
                               
                          And you must take pains to never forget it.

                                                              *  *  *

Anyone who comes back to this human realm could be considered to have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. A liminal space, it offers possibility yet is fraught with tension. It is a “chafed” position, a chastened position, perhaps—as it does not provide stability or spiritual haven, but is, rather, a way station.
                                                              *  *  *  

It matters most to not just recognize the features of place or to come to know the feel of a place, but rather to have a particular sense of being in a place. 
(To sense one’s feeling of being in place.)

                                                              *  *  *  

                                  Anger has shaped its own place in you.
                                                              *  *  * 

Those who come to this human realm are struck between a rock and a hard place. Its liminal space offers possibility that is fraught with possibility. And you, with great pain, can never forget what others have so carefully forgotten.
                                                              *  *  *

          Think back: Tongue loosened from a bitter muteness…but the body moving among terrors…alight with everything you’ve guarded, even unremembered dreams…
          
       Thronging headlong bodies, buffering or buffeting or….

                    
                The cities and machines set against you, desperate to render you ragged and amorphous as clouds in rain.

                                                              *  *  * 

                    It matters most to not just recognize the features of place or to come to know the feel of a place, but rather to sense one’s being in that place. (To have a particular sense of being in that place.) 
                                                              *  *  * 

                                Where has anger not made a place for you?

Copyright © 2020 by Sharan Strange. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 10, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Our bodies give

into the ocean rolling
     us beneath its tongues     How do we sing
our loss
with water brimming our throats? Oh


Sea, You


are greedy and transform us—
     our faces soft and opening

You do not wash
but strike and shove   You
rinse babies from our arms     leave
husbands waiting     
We spin in your disregard   You

upend this body We
praise your ruin     
                                     Our monuments
rooting bones in all shores

Copyright © 2020 by Ashaki M. Jackson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

breathe for George Floyd we
 

breathe for compassion we

do not know what that is we
 

another black man holy we

gone now George Floyd we

Ahmaud running street endless we

America scream & love we
 

do not know what love is we

breathe George Floyd flames we
 

next to you on a sp halt cho  ke we

knee Am Am
 

e      ri                   c        a w e

Copyright © 2020 by Juan Felipe Herrera. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 14, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

acrostic golden shovel

America is loving me to death, loving me to death slowly, and I
Mainly try not to be disappeared here, knowing she won’t pledge
Even tolerance in return. Dear God, I can’t offer allegiance.
Right now, 400 years ago, far into the future―it’s difficult to
Ignore or forgive how despised I am and have been in the
Centuries I’ve been here—despised in the design of the flag
And in the fealty it demands (lest I be made an example of).
In America there’s one winning story—no adaptations. The
Story imagines a noble, grand progress where we’re all united.
Like truths are as self-evident as the Declaration states.
Or like they would be if not for detractors like me, the ranks of
Vagabonds existing to point out what’s rotten in America,
Insisting her gains come at a cost, reminding her who pays, and
Negating wild notions of exceptionalism—adding ugly facts to
God’s-favorite-nation mythology. Look, victors get spoils; I know the
Memories of the vanquished fade away. I hear the enduring republic,
Erect and proud, asking through ravenous teeth Who do you riot for?
Tamir? Sandra? Medgar? George? Breonna? Elijah? Philando? Eric? Which
One? Like it can’t be all of them. Like it can’t be the entirety of it:
Destroyed brown bodies, dismantled homes, so demolition stands
Even as my fidelity falls, as it must. She erases my reason too, allows one
Answer to her only loyalty test: yes or no, Michael, do you love this nation?
Then hates me for saying I can’t, for not burying myself under
Her fables where we’re one, indivisible, free, just, under God, her God.

 

Copyright © 2020 by Michael Kleber-Diggs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 5, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

But where do the breasts go first is my question.
I understand their fantasies of fleeing south. 

The winters are loud and long and white 
and by March, well. I wonder why I’m still 

in it too. Now the round pits thumb up 
beneath the skin, tender and hot to the touch, 

crushed by my new weight. This island I’ve 
had to make of myself brought a bevy, 

angered by easy pleasures: sugar, soy sauce, 
potatoes, ice cream. My love’s language 

is to make a meal, ask what I can take in, 
ask what maladies to avoid. As for my house:

touch is far and few between. Desire wanes 
between compresses of cloves cinnamon turmeric 

and honey.  But in the mornings, a gulf between us, 
my hands are kissed. The blinds drawn to keep

the sun from disturbing my sleep while we wait 
patiently for my body’s quiet prayer of thanks.

Copyright © 2020 by Aricka Foreman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Nazim Hikmet

it’s April 13th 2020, my mother’s 60th birthday
and i’m sitting on the couch from my old apartment 
in my new apartment, and Pidgeon’s wind chimes are loud 
outside my window    

i never knew i liked wind chimes

i think Mom used to have some outside her office
she had tabletop fountains and hunks of amethyst 
crystals the size of my face

i used to hate how she made us meditate 
learn reiki on the weekends
now i’m calling her every other day 
for the new old remedy

i hate how much i cared about being cool 
when i was younger, carrying mom’s tupperware
in brown paper bags wishing for a lunchable
something disposable with a subtler scent  

now i am ecstatic to see tupperware 
stacked in my fridge, the luxury 
of leftovers instead of chopping 
another onion 

i used to lie in bed on Sunday evenings wishing 
for a whole week of weekends
now i forget what day it is 
and still feel i’m running out of time 

i never knew i hated washing my hands this much
i sing “Love On Top” while scrubbing 
to make sure i hit twenty seconds

my sister hears me singing and asks 
if i am happy. no, i say
i’m just counting

Copyright © 2021 by Jamila Woods. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 1, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

We ran barefoot on pavement
before a girl tripped on a rock,
got third and fourth lips,
a new hairline.

We jumped from swings, aiming
for grass beyond the gravel path.
We flipped over the frame to float,
weightless girls who didn’t matter.

There’s a scar in the shape of Africa
on my right knee, a faceless dime
on my wrist. I expect flight,
but brace to land on my back.

How I could’ve loved you with that body,
heart that instructs a girl to climb fences
taller than her house, or fight a bully
who already shaves her knees.

What chords a pulse plucks. It plays
in thumbs pressed together. Some night
I’d like to leap from the headboard,
double up, wonder at the blood in our grins.

Copyright © 2021 by Ladan Osman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 5, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

We ran barefoot on pavement
before a girl tripped on a rock,
got third and fourth lips,
a new hairline.

We jumped from swings, aiming
for grass beyond the gravel path.
We flipped over the frame to float,
weightless girls who didn’t matter.

There’s a scar in the shape of Africa
on my right knee, a faceless dime
on my wrist. I expect flight,
but brace to land on my back.

How I could’ve loved you with that body,
heart that instructs a girl to climb fences
taller than her house, or fight a bully
who already shaves her knees.

What chords a pulse plucks. It plays
in thumbs pressed together. Some night
I’d like to leap from the headboard,
double up, wonder at the blood in our grins.

Copyright © 2021 by Ladan Osman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 5, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.