To Jamyla Bolden of Ferguson, Missouri

- 1952-

Fifty years before you did your homework in Ferguson
we did our homework in Ferguson, thinking life was fair.
If we didn’t do our homework we might get a U—Unsatisfactory.
Your dad says you didn’t even get to see the rest of the world yet.
I’ve seen too much of the world and don’t know
how to absorb this—a girl shot through a wall—U! U! U!
I’d give you some of my years if I could—you should not
have died that night—there was absolutely no reason
for you to die. I’d like to be standing in a sprinkler with you,
the way we used to do, kids before air conditioning,
safe with our friends in the drenching of cool,
safe with our shrieks and summer shorts and happy hair,
where can we go without thinking of you now?
Did you know there was a time Ferguson was all a farm?
It fed St. Louis…giant meadows of corn, sweet potatoes,
laden blackberry bushes, perfect tomatoes in crates,
and everything was shovels and hoes, and each life,
even the little tendril of a vine, mattered,
and you did your homework and got an S for Satisfactory,
Super, instead of the S of Sorrow now stamped on our hands.

Two Countries

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a 
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that's what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers--silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin's secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.


Even at this late date, sometimes I have to look up
the word "receive." I received his deep
and interested gaze.

A bean plant flourishes under the rain of sweet words.
Tell what you think—I'm listening.

The story ruffled its twenty leaves.


Once my teacher set me on a high stool
for laughing. She thought the eyes
of my classmates would whittle me to size.
But they said otherwise.

We'd laugh too if we knew how.

I pinned my gaze out the window
on a ripe line of sky.

That's where I was going.

The Man Whose Voice Has Been Taken From His Throat

remains all supple hands and gesture

skin of language
fusing its finest seam

in fluent light
with a raised finger

dance of lips
each sentence complete

he speaks to the shadow
of leaves

strung tissue paper
snipped into delicate flags

on which side of the conversation
did anyone begin?

wearing two skins
the brilliant question mark of Mexico
stands on its head
like an answer