i don’t know how, but surely, & then again
the boy, who is not a boy, & i, who is barely
me by now, meld into a wicked, if not lovely
beast, black lacquered in black, darker
star, sky away from the sky, he begs, or
is it i beg him to beg, for me to open,
which i do, which i didn’t need to be asked
but the script matters, audition & rehearse
the body - a theatre on the edge of town
chitlin’ circuit opera house, he runs a hand,
praise the hand, over me, still red with hot
sauce, is that what it is? his hands, jeweled
in, what? what could it be? what did he pull
from me? a robin? a wagon? our red child?
pulled from me: a robin, a wagon, our red child
with dead red bird in his hands, dead child
in red coffin on wheels, parade out of me
second line up the needle & into the vial
all the children i’ll never have, dead in me
widow father, sac fat with mourning, dusk
is the color of my blood, blood & milk
colored, chalk virus, the boy writes on me
& erases, the boy claps me between
his hands & i break apart like glitter
like coke, was there coke that night?
my nose went white then red all over
thin red river flowing down my face
my blood jumped to ask him to wade.
my blood got jumped, ask him to wait
before he gives me the test results, give
me a moment of not knowing, sweet
piece of ignorance, i want to go back
to the question, sweet if of yesterday
bridge back to maybe, lord bring me
my old blood’s name, take away
the crown of red fruit sprouting
& rotting & sprouting & rotting.
in me: a garden of his brown mouth
his clean teeth, his clean answer
phantom hiding behind a red curtain
& i would sing if not for blood in my throat
if my blood was not a moat.
if my blood was not a moat, i’d have a son
but i kingdom myself, watch the castle turn
to exquisite mush. look at how easy bones
turn to grits how the body becomes effigy.
would have a daughter but i am only
the mother of my leaving. i sit on jungle gym
crying over other people’s children, black
flowers blooming where my tears fall.
bees commune at their lips, then
turn them to stone. as expected.
my blood a river named medusa. every man
i touch turns into a monument. i put
flowers at their feet, their terrible stone feet.
they grow wings, stone wings, & crumble.
they grow wings, stoned wings, crumble
& fall right out my body, my little darlings.
i walk & leave a trail of my little never-
no-mores. my little angels, their little feathers
clogging the drain, little cherubs drowning
right in my body, little prayers bubbling
at the mouth, little blue skinned joys
little dead jokes, little brown eyed can’ts
my nursery of nunca, family portrait
full of grinning ghost, they look just like me
proud papa of pity, forever uncle, father
figure figured out of legacy, doomed daddy.
look at my children, skipping toward the hill
& over the hill: a cliff, a fire, an awful mouth.
& over the hill: a cliff, a fire, the awful mouth
of an awful river, a junkyard, a church made
from burnt churches – place for prayer
for those who have forgotten how to pray.
i stand by the river, the awful one, dunk
my head in the water & scream
for my river-bottom heirs – this is prayer
right? i fall & i drown & i trash & i burn
& i dunk my head in the water & i
call the children drowned in my blood
to come home – this is the right prayer?
lord, give me a sign, red & octagonal.
god bless the child that’s got his own.
god bless the father who will have none.
god bless the father who will have none
to call him father, god bless the lonely
god who will create nothing. but there’s
pills for that. but the pills cost too much.
& the womb cost money to rent.
but who will let you fill them with seed
from a tree of black snakes? but i didn’t know
what he was bringing to me. but he
told me he was negative. but he wasn’t
aware of the red witch spinning
in his blood. but he tasted so sweet.
sweet as a child’s smile. sweet as a dream
filled with children who look just like you
you know: black, chubby, beaming, dying.
you know: black, chubby, beaming, dying
of hunger, dying on the news, dying to forget
the news, he came to me like that. we were
almost brothers, almost blood, then we were.
good god, we made a kind of family – in my veins
my son-brothers sleep, sisters-daughters
name each cell royal, home, untouchable.
in every dream, i un- my children:
untuck them into bed, unkiss their lil wounds
unteach them how to pray, unwake in the night
to watch their little chests rise & fall, unname
them, tuck them back into their mothers
& i wake up in bed with him – his red, dead, gift
i don’t know how, but surely, & then again.
Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. This poem was first printed in Granta, August 3, 2017. Used with the permission of the author.