du bois in ghana

at 93, you determined to pick up and go—
and stay gone. the job nkrumah called you to,
to create, at last, your encyclopedia africana
             (encompassing a continent chipped

like wood beneath an axe, a large enough
diaspora to girdle the globe, and a mere four
thousand years) was either well-deserved
              sinecure or well-earned trust

that your health was as indestructible as
your will. my mind wrestles with possible pictures:
the victorian sensibility, the charcoal wool
              formality of your coats and vests, the trim

of your beard as sharp as the crease of your
collar—how would these du boisian essentials
hold up to sub-saharan heat? would
              your critical faculties wilt in accra’s

urban tropics as i’ve read that westerners’
are wont to do? dr. du bois, i presume
you took the climate in stride, took to it,
              looked out your library’s louvered windows

onto a land you needed
neither to condemn nor conquer,
and let the sun tell you what you already knew:
              this was not a port to pass on.

your 95th birthday photo found you bathed
in white cloth, cane still in hand, sharing a smile
with a head of state who knew your worth—joy
              that this nation’s birth occurred in time

for you to step out of a cold, cold storm
into outstretched arms. would your pan-
african dream have survived a dictatorial
              nkrumah, an nkrumah in exile? you took

the prerogative of age and died without telling,
without knowing. a half-century later, here
in the country where you were born, i look
             into a screen and watch as, near and far, a pan-

demic of violence and abuse staggers the planet.
we seed the world with blood, grow
bleeding, harvest death and the promise
              of more. when i turn bitter, seeing no potential

for escape, i think of the outrages you saw—wars,
lynchings, genocide, mccarthy, communism’s
failure to rise above corrupting power
             any better than capitalism had, the civil rights

movement’s endless struggle—and how
you kept writing and walking, looking
for what you knew was out there. your memory,
             your tireless radiant energy, calls me

to my work, to my feet, insisting
that somewhere on the earth, freedom is
learning to walk, trying not to fall,
              and, somewhere, laboring to be born.

the fare-well letters [excerpt]

dear ink jet,


          black fast. greasy lightning.
won't smear. won't rub off.
          defense: a visual screen: ask
an octopus (bioaquadooloop).
          footprints faster than a speed-
ing bully, tracking dirt all
          over the page. make every
word count. one. two. iamb.
          octoroon. half-breed. mutt.
mulatto. why are there so few
          hybrids on the road? because
they can't reproduce. trochee
          choking okay mocha. ebony,
by contrast, says so much.

effect shrewd preferences

the screed seen here blesses
        the sweet, the meek, the gentle,
                the serene. let eyes ensembled
peep the news sheets: ere
        december descends, we'll elect
                the next pres, reps, etc. when
we welter, cede the wheel,
        we let greed-questers enter
                (well-dressed jerks!). they send
themselves the green we need,
        help themselves fleece the sheep
                we be. we're the perfect prey!
the press sleeps the sleep we
        deserve, then bleeds berserk
                text between celeb tweets. we'd
best reject the mess, steer
        the fleet between these repellent
                hells. veer! swerve! reverse!
here's the pledge: we'll expect
        better press. elect the decent
                men, the keenest shes. revere
sense. never feed spleen lest
        we weep endless weeks, red-
                eyed, bereft. let excellent pens
represent the experts' ken, help
        peeps remember key elements.
                let's select well. we'll revel yet.

it: a user's guide

i hear it jingling in the pockets of the innocent heirs of fundamentally well-meaning transatlantic traders and new world farmers. i see a wad of it stuffed in the jeans of the celebrities whose tracks, films, and reality shows are beloved by fans all across the nation and wherever american culture is exported. i feel it varnishing the walls of my classrooms and my home like a thick coat of paint. they paved the street with it last week. it is transporting, transcendent, the fastest way up and out. many brands of condoms use it as a lubricant, for her pleasure. it works to slide things through congress, too. i heard the military discovered it makes a great explosive, as demonstrated twice in japan for all the world to see. keep an eye on your drink at the club—they’ll slip some of it into your glass when you’re not looking, when your attention is focused on that scantily-clad ass and your head is pounding with the rhythm of the bass. better to get a prescription for it, take it in the recommended doses—and even then there may be side effects, including nausea, dry mouth, depression, anxiety, shortness of breath, insomnia, tremors, and memory loss. it’s an effective decongestant, opening clogged passages into colleges and universities, offices (corporate and political), and professional sports. you can light a fire with it, say, at your neighborhood barbeque, where even the vigilant (the e is silent) may burn the meat to a crisp. vigilance is the best way to demonstrate your innocence, inherited or acquired by other means, by any means necessary.