How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This

dear reader, with our heels digging into the good 
mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something 
about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself 
but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown 
& lord knows I have been called by what I look like 
more than I have been called by what I actually am & 
I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this 
exercise. which, too, is an attempt at fashioning 
something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anything 
worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics arrive 
to the tongue first. say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out grandfather 
clock. he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent 
heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning, 
you could scatter his whole mind across a field.

More by Hanif Abdurraqib

It Is Maybe Time to Admit That Michael Jordan Definitely Pushed Off

that one time in the ’98 NBA finals & in praise of one man’s hand on the waist of another’s & in praise of the ways we guide our ships to the shore of some brief & gilded mercy I touch my fingers to the hips of this vast & immovable grief & push once more & who is to say really how much weight was behind Jordan’s palm on that night in Utah & on that same night one year earlier the paramedics pulled my drowning mother from the sheets where she slept & they said it must have felt like a whole hand was pushing down on her lungs & I spent the whole summer holding my breath in bed until the small black spots danced on the ceiling & I am sorry that there is no way to describe this that is not about agony or that is not about someone being torn from the perch of their comfort & on the same night a year before my mother died Jordan wept on the floor of the United Center locker room after winning another title because it was father’s day & his father went to sleep on the side of a road in ’93 & woke up a ghost & there is no moment worth falling to our knees & galloping towards like the one that sings our dead into the architecture & so yes for a moment in 1998 Michael Jordan made what space he could on the path between him & his father’s small & breathing grace

& so yes,

there is an ocean between us the length of my arm & I have built nothing for you that can survive it

& from here I am close enough to be seen but not close enough to be cherished

& from here, I can see every possible ending before we even touch.

The Prestige

the poem begins not where the knife enters
but where the blade twists.
Some wounds cannot be hushed
no matter the way one writes of blood
& what reflection arrives in its pooling.
The poem begins with pain as a mirror
inside of which I adjust a tie the way my father taught me
before my first funeral & so the poem begins
with old grief again at my neck. On the radio,
a singer born in a place where children watch the sky
for bombs is trying to sell me on love
as something akin to war.
I have no lie to offer as treacherous as this one.
I was most like the bullet when I viewed the body as a door.
I’m past that now. No one will bury their kin
when desire becomes a fugitive
between us. There will be no folded flag
at the doorstep. A person only gets to be called a widow once,
and then they are simply lonely. The bluest period.
Gratitude, not for love itself, but for the way it can end
without a house on fire.
This is how I plan to leave next.
Unceremonious as birth in a country overrun
by the ungrateful living. The poem begins with a chain
of well-meaning liars walking one by one
off the earth’s edge. That’s who died
and made me king. Who died and made you.

Glamor on the West Streets / Silver Over Everything

from the humid brick building below my humid brick building, a woman
bellows at the pizza man. who, it seems, threw no cheese atop the crust
& its red river of sauce because—as he shouts above the sirens of State
Street & the growing crowd lined outside his shop—it is Friday night
& he is woefully short on mozzarella & there are far better pizza options
on every corner of this city, overpriced & tonight bursting at the seams
with lonely people who will seek the warmth spilling from the edges
of a cardboard box & onto their laps & into their fingers on the walk
back to a newly empty apartment. I love the heat for how it separates
the desire for touch from the practicality of it. If it gets too hot to fuck,
like it did for mookie & tina, then we’re all on our own sinking islands
anyway. there is no cheese in this town anymore & what could be worse
than the fraction of a dream behind every door you crawl to. it is friday & surely
some of my people are praising the fresh coin in their bank accounts & what
a tragedy to spend it on a half-finished freedom & the argument below has poured
out into the streets & the waiting masses & I imagine this is no longer over
cheese but over every mode of unfulfilled promise. the cluster of sins still stuck to a body
fresh from the waters of baptism. the parent who must dig a grave for their youngest
child. from below, a man yells there are only three ingredients. you can’t even get that right.
isn’t it funny, to vow that you will love someone until you are dead.

Related Poems

Verguenza

Woman, I wish I didn't know your name.  
What could you be? Silence in my house 
& the front yard where the dogwood 
wouldn't make up its mind about flowers. 
Aren't you Nature? A stem cringing, half-
shadowed beneath a torque of rain. 
I too am leaving. I too am half-spun. 
The other day near the river
I bent down & Narcissus 
turned his immaculate mouth
away, refusing to caress
my howls. Silence in the trees
all around the shotgun house & that scent
of cedar whenever I dream.
I turn the light around on the ground, 
sweeping the red mud, holding 
the light like a rattler. Like a hood of 
poison, fitted over my face. Cobra 
woman, slicked with copperhead flutes. 
I too am fleeing. My face born
in a caul of music. Bravado.
The men come into the yard 
& pull all my clothes off, 
walk me into the house, 
into my own kitchen. 
Tell me not to say
say I'm wrong.