It’s Not Really about Them, It’s about Us

Braiding my hair, working with, and not against,
the silver waves, breaking through the crests
of my crushed curls—

I consider my life, my regrets and my absences,
my not-love life at press time, the small bundle
of garbage, tied-up by the door,

and I think, looking into the mirror, As soon
as I don’t need them, that’s when they’ll come
running; it’s a law, it’s diffusion

and I think, I could write a theory of whiteness,
but I won’t, because that’s exactly what they want.
Then I follow that with,

It’s not really about them, it’s about us,
and I consider broadcasting that thought
to the whole wide world—

but instead, I sit down to piecemeal these
lines in the quiet of my quiet-dark,
for you, listening now.

Related Poems

My Man

Translated from Portuguese by Dan Hanrahan

I am whatever you think a black man is. You almost never think about black men. I will always be what you want a black man to be. I am your black man. I’ll never be only your black man. I am my black man before I am yours. Your black man. A black man is always somebody’s black man. Or they are not a black man at all, but a man. Just a man. When they say that a man is black, what they mean is that he is more black than he is man. But all the same, I’m a black man to you. I’m what you imagine black men to be. I can spill onto your whiteness the blackness that defines a black man in the eyes of someone who is not black. The black man is the invention of the white man. It is believed that to the white man falls the burden of creating all that is good in the world, and that I am good, and that I was created by whites. That they fear me more than they fear other white people. That they fear me, but at the same time desire my forbidden body. That they would scalp me for the doomed love they bear for my blackness. I was not born black. I’m not black every moment of the day. I am black only when they want me to be black. Those times that I am not just black, I am as adrift as the most lost white person. I am not just what you think I am.

If We Speak of the Hurricane

of whiteness and the horn of plenty,
if it is even a horn; if there is such a thing
if destruction is ceaseless; if my son’s hand
reaches for a cotton blanket or a cat’s tail,
if we have our eyes on him, if I describe
his hand as pillowy; if the world is a tower
of breakable plates for the white son,
if he is unaware of the supernatural-
seeming inventions that sustain white hunger;
if Hades has its own horn made of ivory
for drinking; if hunger tightens the guts
of others; if it is described as inevitable
or accidental; if the description is written
by the same hunger; if he is just a boy
asking about justice at the mall;
if his father and I cannot help but love
his locomotive of curiosity, its erratic perpetuity,
shark, shots, Mars, if we wonder how it will end;
if zoo doctor, if astronomer, if madman;
if we speak of the white shark, if they are
nearly missing, if the bleaching of coral;
if the four of us trudge upstairs at bedtime
single file making train sounds are we acting
as a tribe; if we fear the world; if four feels a tribe;
if our son assigns himself the role of conductor;
if his sister laughs, cheek against my shoulder;
if I carry her body carefully like her body were glass,
a white object; if tired from school, my son dreams
of cities lit up and falling, fireflies collapsing,
bees and honey; if at school he traces letters
with happy concentration; if, using a push pin
to punch out the shapes of continents he asks
his teacher why he cannot punch out the ocean,
why just continents, why can’t he pin-punch the ocean;
if at school he pours water from a red pitcher
into a bowl, spills some, threads yarn through a card;
if twice yearly there is the interruption
of a lockdown drill, the crackling loudspeaker,
if his teacher asks anyone who is afraid
to raise their hand, if she says
              This is for the wild animal
              who may at any moment enter  

The Thought of the World

This is how a country goes bad.

Reason does not govern

The social order, in the Republic.

The old philosophers thought reason

If spoken plainly could alter

The governing order of the world.

Was it a comfort to believe

That someone held the Word

In their mind to establish

The world beyond thinking

The world on the ground

Upheld and upholding

The mind in its cottage

The thought of the world

Apart from the mind

Stable of immortal horses?

And the long disputations of Abelard... 

What was the discourse?

What was the virtue of speech

Had there not been a world

To uphold and a mind to think

Of worlds that were not itself

The mind echoing the outside

Creak of tree-frogs at night—

The window and witness—

To tell the story of what it saw?

Was there never a song

A dogma close to Paradise

Worthy of our tenderness?

Were the tongues always 

Deceived and the spoils 

Bestowed by conquerors

The purchase of blindness?

On the wall is the writing

By hand of the last poet

To leave the last city behind.

Her words are calligraphy.

The drawing made by them

The letters of the writing

What it says is that here

A hand once made a mark.

O liberty to write your precious

Freedom like a faulty wire.

Through the window the maple trees

Shining and swaying.

Lights sputter as the hand moves.

Well then, to write dark letters

On dark pages in the dark hall.

It matters that the words hold on

And the meanings cling like iron.