Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

basma & rudy were first         each holding
            a mirror in her arms    where i could see
my face as their faces             & we pierced

our noses & wore gamar boba
            in our ears & everyone at the party
thought them hoop earrings   & in the new york years

i crowd smoky bars alongside ladin
            & shadin & majid & linda & nedal   
atheel & amir & elkhair     & mo & mohammed & mo

& we are forever removing our shoes in each other’s
            apartments     ashing cigarettes
into the incense burner           making tea

with the good dried mint our mothers taught us
            to keep in the freezer              next to the chili
powder from home     making songs & dinner

& jokes in our parents’ accents     & i am funniest
            when i have two languages to cocktail            
when i can say remember & everyone was there             

the rented room at the middle school on sundays
            where our parents volunteered to teach us arabic 
to watch us bleat         alef baa taa thaa        & text

our american boyfriends that we were bored               
            & at restaurants everyone asks if we are related
& we say yes  we do not date because we are probably

cousins            we throw rent parties & project the video
            where albabil sing gitar alshoug & i am not
the only one crying     not the only one made & remade

by longing       the mutation that arabic makes of my english     
            metallic noises the english makes in my arabic 
we ululate at each other’s weddings   we ululate at the club          

& sarah & hana make the mulah vegan          & in english safia
            spells her name like mine but pronounces it
like purified    sews a patch of garmasees

to the back of my denim jacket          we wash our underwear
            in the sink & make group texts on whatsapp        
we go home & take pictures of the pyramids              

we go home & take pictures of the nile          we move
            to other cities & feel doubly diasporic            
& your cousin’s coworker’s little sister emails me

a list of bigalas in oakland      brings me crates
            of canned fava beans from her own parents’
basement         & i say sudanese-american & mean also

british sudanese          & canadian & australian & raised
            in the gulf        azza & yousra & amani & yassmin 
& it’s true that my people are everywhere    

the uncles driving taxis at the end of our nights               
            the pharmacist who fills my prescription
who is named for the mole denoting beauty  

adorning her left cheek           guardian spirits of my every
            hookah bar        of my every untagged photograph     
of crop tops & short shorts    & pierced cartilage & tattoos

of henna & headscarves & undercuts & shaved heads
            my tapestries               embroidered with hundreds
of little mirrors            glinting like sequins in the changing light

Copyright © 2021 by Safia Elhillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 7, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

---------------Marfa, Texas
30.3095 north

On July 2, 2018, my flight took me to Marfa, Texas—not my usual migratory route. Nevertheless, during my brief stay, I was able to meet swallows and sparrows, and I observed other exceptional migratory wings from Mexico. Some small-winged children were captured and separated from their parents and placed in internment camps along the border of Texas, US and Mexico. Who will translate their wings? Whenever my ears would let me, I looked up at the night skies in order to track Planet Nine. Being the compulsive translator that I am, I traced and traced the planet’s orbitary routes, its rotations of capture, torture, and massacre. The universe is such a dizzying place that my ears were spinning out of control. Planet Nine! Come in, Planet Nine!

The language of capture, torture, and massacre is difficult to decipher. It’s practically a foreign language. What a nightmare! But as a foreigner myself, I am able to detect the slightest flicker of palpitations and pain. Difficult syntax! It may show up as faint dots and lines, but they’re often blood, snow, and even dandruff. How do I know? Foreigners know. Ahn-Kim calmly narrated as she continued to circle and circle Planet Nine with her pen. Her circles were extraordinary.

From DMZ Colony (Wave Books, 2020) by Don Mee Choi. Copyright © 2020 by Don Mee Choi. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Wave Books, wavepoetry.com.

It is difficult/ to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there. / Hear me out / for I too am concerned / and every man/ who wants to die at peace in his bed / besides.

                      —William Carlos Williams, “Asphodel, that Greeny Flower”

Move along, you don’t belong here.
This is what you’re thinking. Thinking
drives you nuts these days, all that
talk about rights and law abidance when
you can’t even walk your own neighborhood
in peace and quiet, get your black ass gone.
You’re thinking again. Then what?
Matlock’s on TV and here you are,
vigilant, weary, exposed to the elements
on a wet winter’s evening in Florida
when all’s not right but no one sees it.
Where are they – the law, the enforcers
blind as a bunch of lazy bats can be,
holsters dangling from coat hooks above their desks
as they jaw the news between donuts?

Hey! It tastes good, shoving your voice
down a throat thinking only of sweetness.
Go on, choke on that. Did you say something?
Are you thinking again? Stop!— and
get your ass gone, your blackness,
that casual little red riding hood
I’m just on my way home attitude
as if this street was his to walk on.
Do you hear me talking to you? Boy.
How dare he smile, jiggling his goodies
in that tiny shiny bag, his black paw crinkling it,
how dare he tinkle their laughter at you.

Here’s a fine basket of riddles:
If a mouth shoots off and no one’s around
to hear it, who can say which came first—
push or shove, bang or whimper?
Which is news fit to write home about?

Copyright © 2013 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poet Lore. Used with the permission of the poet.

This is not a small voice
you hear               this is a large
voice coming out of these cities.
This is the voice of LaTanya.
Kadesha. Shaniqua. This
is the voice of Antoine.
Darryl. Shaquille.
Running over waters
navigating the hallways
of our schools spilling out
on the corners of our cities and
no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.

This is not a small love
you hear               this is a large
love, a passion for kissing learning
on its face.
This is a love that crowns the feet with hands
that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails
mends the children,
folds them inside our history where they
toast more than the flesh
where they suck the bones of the alphabet
and spit out closed vowels.
This is a love colored with iron and lace.
This is a love initialed Black Genius.

This is not a small voice
you hear.

From Wounded in the House of a Friend. Copyright © 1995 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.

John Keene, in an interview with Tonya Foster in Bomb Magazine, Fall 2015, posits “[c]apitalism being the quintessence of reason, in one way, and of unreason, in another,” and speaks, later, of “the victims of unreason…”

Until they’re all converted, every block has a skinny white lady of indeterminate age with an underbite and a cigarette in her right hand swinging as she makes her way down the block. Sometimes this lady organizes the trash in the courtyard in the middle of the night into neat bundles of bulk, bags and recycling. Sometimes this lady screams through the wall that you’re a whore and he’s a faggot or mumbles under her breath when you pass her in the hallway, the street, the bodega. She wears the same small blue jacket and gray hoodie all winter, face the very image of the moon in Le voyage dans la Lune, space capsule in her

eye. Until they’re replaced,” she may or may not have children, who may or may not be bigger than her, may or may not be wholly or partially white, who indicate some sort of dalliance with boundaries she seems loathe to cross, at least socially, now, and they may or may not also smoke cigarettes, organize the trash or clean the sidewalk, or mumble beneath their breath when you pass. None of them is the super or the super’s family or in any way connected with anything official like the super, but they keep the building, and it’s environs, clean, and for this they earn a begrudging respect from their neighbors, until they are gone.

Until the buildings are all filled with white people who have money to spend at cafés and wine bars, and for a little while thereafter, there is, on every block, a black man dressed for all seasons in a camel hair coat, hat with ear flaps, and tattered leather gloves who paces the street speaking to no one In particular in a language no one the neighborhood understands; not Arabic, Spanish, Nahuatl, or English. This man may or may not have a small white dog he pushes in a stroller, he may or may not pull a toddler out of the path of an oncoming car; the ambulance may or may not call at his door repeatedly, the health department may or may

not issue repeated summons. Until they are gone, the people of the block will feed him from the block party proceeds, and the bodega will make of him an honored guest; he may or may not carry a boombox or plastic bag he uses to pick up detritus of the night’s garbage wind and under snow melt remainings. Until he is displaced, he may or may not have a house or apartment, space which is only entered by him, his shopping cart and himself alone, and when he approaches his own threshold his shouts and cries turn to low and coarse offerings at keyholes, punic columns of books in a foyer of grime, until they are gone.

From Letters to the Future: Black Women, Radical Writing (Kore Press, 2017) by R. Erica Doyle. Copyright © 2017 R. Erica Doyle. Used with the permission of the author.

In California, someone is found hanging
from a tree, and no one knows why;

in my anger, I forget to explain
to our white neighbor, why it matters
that he’s black,

if only she knew
the luxury of not having to worry
whether her life mattered or not–

*

The first time I learned
about the color of my skin
I spent months
crossing a border
where my kind was not welcomed;

the first time I was othered
I was still in the womb
breaking in my naming–

*

In California, a man is found hanging
from a tree, and no one knows why;

someone said,
            it must have been a suicide,

what country is this
where suicide becomes the hopeful thing–

I want to talk about this,
I say to my husband,

do you know what this means?

I have run out of ways
of telling him that he, too, is a black, black man
living in a white, white world

but his body knows
our bodies always know–

*

In California, a black man is found hanging
from a tree, and no one knows why;

when they hear the news, someone asks
what kind of tree,

what country is this
where life is not life if it inhabits a black body
where we have to march in the streets
and get beaten, gassed, hunted down

so someone, anyone, can see this,
this us we see, this us we are, this humanness.

*

I am filled with a quiet furor. What happens
when the body is marked before it is born,
what happens to it
when it is filled with grief
what happens
when no one sees it as such
what happens
to black bodies riddled with war
what war is this
that continues to kill, kill, kill.

*

In California, a black man is found hanging
from a tree, and someone knows why;

we want to say many things
but none seem to get through;

our mother’s grief
is too great to contain us,
too deep to keep us safe

what do you call a country
that kills its people
and calls itself free,

what freedom is this
that has us running
that holds us hostage
that invades our every being
that hunts our children
that takes our fathers
that murders, murders, murders

Stop–
            listen to this:

In California, a black man is found hanging
from a tree, do you know why?

Does it matter
what kind of tree it was, what kind of earth
housed the roots of such tree,

does it matter
whether the man was in his early twenties
with glimmering black skin
and dancing dreadlocks

would you feel better
if it was a suicide

would it be better
if you never heard about this

do you find yourself thinking,
who would do such a thing,

do you find yourself breaking
completely split open
and parts of you erupting out,

did you wonder
about his mother
about her grief
about his beloveds

did you tell yourself
something nice
to forget this hanging body

did you will it away
what else did you do
to let yourself forget
as you did with all the others
did you tell yourself
I would never–but wait, wait:
did you hear:

in California, a black man is found hanging
from a tree, and you know why;

there is nothing more to say
no further reasoning you need to do
no way out of this,

listen closely:

a black man
is found hanging
from a tree

I know you must like trees
these tall muscular giants

housing small fruits,
breathing, living things,

I know you must think
this is a horrific thing
that has happened to a black man

but how many trees
have housed black bodies
how many were complicit
in our collective dying,

how quick are we to forget
the marred history of this land
built on the blood and bones
of our ancestors

how many more
will need to die
until you see, see, see

how many more
gunned down, beaten, suffocated
until you hear
our rightful pleading

how much blood
must you have on your hands
before our children
are finally set free,
listen:

a black man
hangs from a tree

a black man
hangs
from a tree

a black man
hanging from a tree,

how dare you try and absolve yourself
from our collective lynching–

Copyright © 2021 by Mahtem Shiferraw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 9, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

but it doesn't break, and neither breaks toward justice
nor away from it. It simply bends, as the bow does
before propelling the arrow where it may, agnostic
to everything but flight. I don't mean to make morality
a weapon in this way, but it already is one and has been
for some time. The shackles, after all, were explained
as saving us from ourselves, our naked savagery,
though it was their whip that licked us and left a kind
of tactile text on our bodies. The Bible will have a man
beating on someone as easily as it will have another
taking one, turning the other cheek, civilly disobedient
even when the bombs blow up in their church, not to say
saying no to violence isn't commendable, just to say
a strong case can be made for cracking a skull or two
like an everyday egg in hopes whatever golden light
resides inside shines through, throughs the crimson tide
for the rest of time so the tide will, mercifully, recede.

Copyright © 2021 by Cortney Lamar Charleston. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 3, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

The gospel of the journey is realizing
that eating is a political act,
that the Woodstock of the mind
is everywhere on a tiny planet like ours,

that the inventory of the body
is equivalent to the trauma
that comes from crop-dust in our eyes,
carcinogens in the crotches of our panties,
black women doing the math
that put white men on the moon.

And there are always
more questions for consideration—
like admitting that it’s hard to tell who’s shooting
while we’re praying with our eyes closed.

Copyright © 2017 by Rosemarie Dombrowski. Originally published in West Texas Literary Review (March 2017). Used with the permission of the author.

What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronzed men, or regal black
Women from whose loins I sprang
When the birds of Eden sang?
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?

So I lie, who all day long
Want no sound except the song
Sung by wild barbaric birds
Goading massive jungle herds,
Juggernauts of flesh that pass
Trampling tall defiant grass
Where young forest lovers lie,
Plighting troth beneath the sky.
So I lie, who always hear,
Though I cram against my ear
Both my thumbs, and keep them there,
Great drums throbbing through the air.
So I lie, whose fount of pride,
Dear distress, and joy allied,
Is my somber flesh and skin,
With the dark blood dammed within
Like great pulsing tides of wine
That, I fear, must burst the fine
Channels of the chafing net
Where they surge and foam and fret.

Africa? A book one thumbs
Listlessly, till slumber comes.
Unremembered are her bats
Circling through the night, her cats
Crouching in the river reeds,
Stalking gentle flesh that feeds
By the river brink; no more
Does the bugle-throated roar
Cry that monarch claws have leapt
From the scabbards where they slept.
Silver snakes that once a year
Doff the lovely coats you wear,
Seek no covert in your fear
Lest a mortal eye should see;
What’s your nakedness to me?
Here no leprous flowers rear
Fierce corollas in the air;
Here no bodies sleek and wet,
Dripping mingled rain and sweat,
Tread the savage measures of
Jungle boys and girls in love.
What is last year’s snow to me,
Last year’s anything? The tree
Budding yearly must forget
How its past arose or set
Bough and blossom, flower, fruit,
Even what shy bird with mute
Wonder at her travail there,
Meekly labored in its hair.
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?

So I lie, who find no peace
Night or day, no slight release
From the unremittent beat
Made by cruel padded feet
Walking through my body’s street.
Up and down they go, and back,
Treading out a jungle track.
So I lie, who never quite
Safely sleep from rain at night—
I can never rest at all
When the rain begins to fall;
Like a soul gone mad with pain
I must match its weird refrain;
Ever must I twist and squirm,
Writhing like a baited worm,
While its primal measures drip
Through my body, crying, “Strip!
Doff this new exuberance.
Come and dance the Lover’s Dance!”
In an old remembered way
Rain works on me night and day.

Quaint, outlandish heathen gods
Black men fashion out of rods,
Clay, and brittle bits of stone,
In a likeness like their own,
My conversion came high-priced;
I belong to Jesus Christ,
Preacher of humility;
Heathen gods are naught to me.

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
So I make an idle boast;
Jesus of the twice-turned cheek,
Lamb of God, although I speak
With my mouth thus, in my heart
Do I play a double part.
Ever at Thy glowing altar
Must my heart grow sick and falter,
Wishing He I served were black,
Thinking then it would not lack
Precedent of pain to guide it,
Let who would or might deride it;
Surely then this flesh would know
Yours had borne a kindred woe.
Lord, I fashion dark gods, too,
Daring even to give You
Dark despairing features where,
Crowned with dark rebellious hair,
Patience wavers just so much as
Mortal grief compels, while touches
Quick and hot, of anger, rise
To smitten cheek and weary eyes.
Lord, forgive me if my need
Sometimes shapes a human creed.

All day long and all night through,
One thing only must I do:
Quench my pride and cool my blood,
Lest I perish in the flood.
Lest a hidden ember set
Timber that I thought was wet
Burning like the dryest flax,
Melting like the merest wax,
Lest the grave restore its dead.
Not yet has my heart or head
In the least way realized
They and I are civilized.

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922) edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.

All I remember is the coppiced terrain I crossed to find a house to rest in. Who is the woman lurking in the woods? A fellow traveler. I'm not used to seeing others. She is lost and I am lost but the difference is she is a novice at being lost, whereas I have always been without country. Without planet. When we happen upon a cabin I ask the house for shelter on her behalf. I'm aware that we come off as oogles but want to prove we are different by washing dishes. To concretize my gratitude. 

In the morning, before the others awake, I set off for the holy site in a horse-drawn carriage. The carriage has a detachable sleeping chamber designed so that a princely man can carry me supine whenever the horse gets tired. 

At sunset my pilgrimage is complete. The Asian market is a glass palace overlooking an airport. From outside the Palace of Snacks the products shine like organs inside a hard, translucent skin. As I take the palace escalator heavenward my eyes are fixed on an airplane parked on the runway. 

It is waiting for me. 

From The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us From the Void (Nightboat Books, 2021) by Jackie Wang. Copyright © 2021 Jackie Wang. Used with the permission of Nightboat Books. 

The instructor said,

    Go home and write
    a page tonight.
    And let that page come out of you—
    Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you're older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

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.

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.