Calculus I, II, III

man hooded masquerade
a museum erected out of paper-mâché stone,
blue cotton candied walls hung thick and long 
with rooms full of master’s Egos

copied Cats
cut and paste
plantation’s hegemony
onto trace paper canvas

young guns born too brown for they britches
pen-in to kindergarten’s cage
where boys are convinced, this calculus

—how one body
relates to another—

that disturbs all the peace

is the same as learning
their one two threes

evidence contrary to belief
our boys learn fast
science must be, I guess?

a hyper masculine story
washed brains don’t rinse so simple
in and out of class
the curriculum writes itself

soft boys die hard
hot head & class clown grow contagious;
broad shoulders & differential equations
caliber inches into glocks

every where we look
Our highest dimensions
Learn their limits
Without degrees


Copyright © 2024 by Brad Walrond. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 2, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I wrote this poem as a reflection on what it feels like to be cajoled, coerced, seduced, and even bullied into adopting hypermasculine norms as a right of passage into Black manhood. The poem bears witness to how early this acculturation begins in family settings, elementary school, the playground, at the mosque, in church, and even on the radio. It hopes to interrupt the casual illogics of prefabricated masculinities toward an imagination of whatever other brighter, more tender means boys might be inspired to regard, celebrate, and measure one another among themselves.”
Brad Walrond