For Black Children at the End of the World—and the Beginning

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.

More by Roger Reeves

Related Poems

This Is Not a Small Voice

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.

All Black Boys Look Alike

If you sit a few feet away
from this hand fan that once advertised
Amos Moses Barber Shop in New Orleans,
or if you hold it under a dimly glowing light
in a darkened, half-empty room,

            all you see are eighteen black boys,

their moon-shaped heads
tilting in slightly different directions,
hair trimmed low or nearly bald,
and foreheads bulging
like summer-blooming bulbs.

Their faces tell nothing
            of what they feel and see,

                          what men they will become,
            and what they don’t know
            of days they have yet to live,

when eyes that look at them will shut,
and they will be unseen, untaught,
passed by, forgotten, called other names,
or arrested, handcuffed, and jailed
for crimes they didn’t commit,

or maybe they will vanish
in the night inside an alley, a forest
or a river, or be left to dangle
            and drip from the branch of a tree,

and like clouds of smoke,
their brown skin and charred dreams
            will eclipse the rays beaming
            toward the feet of their children.

Inside brightly-lit, crowded rooms
built of race-etched stone walls
that gird and divide their country,
these boys are the faces of all black men.

Close Encounters

I was a real cute kid. Ask anybody. My father
likes to tell a story about a modeling scout

who spotted us out midday shopping
at the Briarwood Mall. Imagine five-year-old me,

all sailor stripes & junior afro, doing a full pull-up
on the magazine kiosk: Got any Keats? No doubt

something I’d heard watching Jeopardy
with granny, but it mattered not

to the tickled pink lady. Oh, you’re just soooo
sweet! What a cutie-sweet! she decreed, handing dad

her flowery card. It wouldn’t stop there.
My 10th birthday, whole neighborhood invited,

I strutted down the stairs in a white sports coat
like, Look, folks. In case you’re wondering,

I’m the host! My mother told Mrs. Holbrook
He was born full-grown with a briefcase. As I’m sure

you will be, little sewn seed, undone. Future me.
Dear son, the defacing starts much later.

After desegregation sparks the awkward clutch
of Coach clutches on campus busses, but before

the riots in Baltimore. It started a few days before
I turned thirty, Invisibility. Home from teaching

the sons & daughters of Indiana farm hands
it’s ok to write poems, same briefcase slung

tired across wrinkled linen, you’d have thought
I accosted her—Maria—when I stooped down

to pluck my mother a pair of magenta tulips    
from her own thriving garden, & she shrieked

Why are you staring at my lawn! Maria who
used to slide teen-me a twenty to occupy her

daughter in the playpen while she grabbed
a bottle of Bordeaux from the basement

before the real nanny arrived. She must have seen
straight through me, into the distant past, alternate

reality when your grandparents’ neighboring
residence would have been a servants’, & I

in that moment, for the first time, unsaw her.
As primer. A kind of manila cardstock 

I’d failed to imprint. Son, sometimes this happens.
It happens in gated spaces when you look like

a lock pick. See the 44th president. Scratch that.
It happens in gated spaces, as the lone

locksmith. & if I’m being honest,
the happy way things are going between

me & E., you may well resemble him.   
Don’t count yourself precious. Truth is,

too soon, you will bend down to rob a few
bright blossoms from your own land &

look away from the earth
to make certain you haven’t been ogled.

This phantom guilt applied to a nape
through the eyes of every blind Maria,

here’s the key: try not to let it die.
Now run to the closest mirror, quickly

remember how sweet the fleeting love.