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.
 

More by Marcus Wicker

Deer Ode, Tangled & Horned

Always the sun first
then the doe sunning, the stag
running toward the doe, wherein

this ramshackle causality
a taste for flesh buds
at birth—when mouth clasps

to breast—quieting
the gut’s ache, not hunger
for touch. If you don’t believe

touch is a famine
fed by need, in another
scene, see an orphaned fawn

bow before a block of salt
crowned on the lone stump
in a clearing where sudden

wind has instructed him
in a lick’s dripping scent.
Right. Now, who then

betrays his permanence
but the huntsmen—
himself? Who then but palette—

appetite’s kissing cousin, driven
only by science of nature—
O Desire, you mother—

You Adam
of the valley, crouched
with a catcher’s mitt

always signaling for the quince
to roll downhill. You’re not much
of a nurturer from behind

this rifle scope,
especially on nights when
I am Lot’s hermaphrodite wife—

all pillar
& looking back
on my downfall from the future

which is surely paradise
or purgatory, depending
on how I decipher my scripture, O

Desire, if you’re a Catholic’s
Tree of Life I must be Buddhist-
free. I’m not interested

in you for the progeny
so much as your skyscraping—
your telephone poles—miraculous,

glazed, glistening with December’s
beckoning slick—crisscrossed
with tiny horizontal beams, wired-

horizon & morning dew,
forming, Dear Sire,
your anointing—this

intimately connected rosary
I can’t help but prick
my tongue to.
 

Watch Us Elocute

June 18, 2015
 
So I’m at this party, right. Low lights, champagne, Michael
Bublé & a gang of loafers I’m forever dancing around
 
in unduly charged conversations, your favorite
accompanist—Bill Evans behind Miles, ever present
 
in few strokes—when, into the room walks
this potentially well-meaning Waspy woman obviously
 
from Connecticut-money, boasting an extensive background
in nonprofit arts management. & without much coaxing
 
from me, really, none at all, she whoops, Gosh, you’re just
so well spoken! & I’m like, Duh, Son. So then we both
 
clink glasses, drink to whatever that was. Naturally,
not till the next morning & from under a scalding
 
shower do I shout: Yes, ma’am. Some of us does talk good!
to no one in particular but the drain holes. No one
 
but the off-white tile grout, the loofah’s yellow pores.
Because I come from a long braid of dangerous men
 
who learned to talk their way out of small compartments.
My own Spartan walls lined with their faces—Ellison
 
& Ellington. Langston, Robeson. Frederick Douglass
above the bench press in the gym, but to no avail—
 
Without fail, when I’m at the Cross Eyed Cricket
(That’s a real diner. It’s in Indiana.) & some pimple-
 
face ginger waiter lingers nervous & doth protest
too much, it’s always Sir, you ever been told you sound like
 
Bryant Gumbel? Which is cute. Because he’s probably
ten. But then sometimes I sit in his twin’s section, & he
 
once predicted I could do a really wicked impression
of Wayne Brady. I know for a fact his name is Jim.
 
I’ve got Jim’s eighteenth birthday blazed on my bedside
calendar. It reads: Ass whippin’. Twelve a.m.—& like
 
actually, that woman from the bimonthly
CV-building gala can kick rocks. Because she’s old
 
enough to be my mother, & educated, if only
by her own appraisal, but boy. Dear boys. Sweet
 
freckled What’s-His-Face & Dipshit Jim,
we can still be play friends. Your folks didn’t explain
 
I’d take your trinket praise as teeny blade—
a trillionth micro-aggression, against & beneath
 
my skin. Little buddies, that sore’s on me.
I know what you mean. That I must seem, “safe.”
 
But let’s get this straight. Let’s call a spade a—
Poor choice of words. Ali, I might not
 
be. Though, at the very least, a heavyweight
throwback: Nat King Cole singing silky
 
& subliminal about the unforgettable model
minority. NBC believed N at & his eloquence
 
could single-handedly defeat Jim Crow.
Fact: They were wrong. Of this I know
 
& not because they canceled his show
in ’57 after one season, citing insufficient
 
sponsorship. Or because, in 1948,
the KKK flamed a cross on his LA lawn.
 
But because yesterday, literally yesterday,
some simple American citizen—throwback
 
supremacist Straight Outta Birmingham, 1963—
aimed his .45 & emptied the life from nine
 
black believers at an AME church in Charleston.
Among them a pastor-senator, an elderly tenor,
 
beloved librarian, a barber with a business degree
who adored his mom & wrote poems about
 
the same age as me. I’m sorry. No, friends.
None of us is safe.
 

Prayer on Aladdin's Lamp

Grant me shelter & bread.
Grant me porch ledge, mantel.
Scented candles, bed. Grant me
four walls, a 5-foot fridge & a hall.
& maybe four more walls. Yes.
Four more walls. & a desk. & 
a decent laptop, plus pleather
rolling chair. So that I might sit
&  write you a poem, Lord.
A psalm praising all you’ve given:
Air I sing with. Cricket’s falsetto.
Buzzing bees & nectar—
how chrysanthemum feels
on the tongue
is what you are to me.
You see what I am doing here.
You see, I am being so sincere,
Sire. Which is sad. Still, grant me
a few free hours each day. Grant me
a Moleskine pad & a ballpoint pen
with some mass. Grant me your gift
of this voice. Pages & pages 
of this voice, in a good book
from a loving press. & grant me 
a great love, too. Grant a way
to provide for my love. Like,
a tenure-track job
at a small college in the Midwest.
The kind with poems
& papers to read. With hoodies
running in & out of my office.
Deadline, paychecks, & 
an OK 401(k). Grant me
everything, Lord. Not today.
But before 28. Be Bulldozer.
Genie. Let every prayer avalanche
me into dust, blank matter. Debris.
Make me worthy. O Lord, make me me.
 

Related Poems

C.R.E.A.M.

after Morgan Parker, after Wu-Tang

                      in the morning I think about money

           green horned lord of my waking

                      forest in which I stumbled toward no salvation

                                 prison made of emerald & pennies

           in my wallet I keep anxiety & a condom

I used to sell my body but now my blood spoiled

           All my favorite songs tell me to get money

                                              I’d rob a bank but I’m a poet

                                 I’m so broke I’m a genius

           If I was white, I’d take pictures of other pictures & sell them

I come from sharecroppers who come from slaves who do not come from kings

                                              sometimes I pay the weed man before I pay the light bill

                      sometimes is a synonym for often

I just want a grant or a fellowship or a rich white husband & I’ll be straight

           I feel most colored when I’m looking at my bank account

I feel most colored when I scream ball so hard motherfuckas wanna find me

                                 I spent one summer stealing from ragstock

If I went to jail I’d live rent-free but there is no way to avoid making white people richer

                                              A prison is a plantation made of stone & steel

           Being locked up for selling drugs = Being locked up for trying to eat

                                              a bald fade cost 20 bones now a days

                      what’s a blacker tax than blackness?

                                              what cost more than being American and poor?

                                         here is where I say reparations.

here is where I say got 20 bucks I can borrow?

           student loans are like slavery but not but with vacation days but not but police

I don’t know what it says about me when white institutions give me money

                      how much is the power ball this week?

I’mma print my own money and be my own god and live forever in a green frame

                      my grandmamma is great at saving money

           before my grandfather passed he showed me where he hid his money & his gun

                      my aunt can’t hold on to a dollar, a job, her brain

                                 I love how easy it is to be bad with money

                      don’t ask me about my taxes

                                 the b in debt is a silent black boy trapped