John Henry crosses the threshold—

Everyone up here called me crazy but
I couldn’t do nothing but what seemed right.
Crazy to fight—maybe—maybe crazy
enough to win. Every day I crouch down

into that bend I know I might not creep
out again. Tunnels eat men like penance—
like payment for letting us through       I knew
my life would be short would be fast but each

shaft of light that snuck through the cracks I smacked
in them walls kept me going and led me

right back—swinging—up this yap and folks thought
I was crazy try’n’a dream us up a
future even if I couldn’t see it
through all that dust       those sudden
                                                                           shouts and screams.

More by Samiya Bashir

At Harlem Hospital across the street from the Schomburg the only thing to eat is a Big Mac

after Z. S.

Still, somehow we are
carousel. We spin bodies
to the wall and back.

We are woman and
man and man. We
are surgeon and

operation. We are
everybody we love.
We are inside them.

We are inside and we
are laughing. We are
man and we will die too.

We know that much.
We are our own
shadow. We are want

of touch. We are woman
and man and man don’t look.
We are curvature—look!

We are train.
We are star.
We are big

tiny spiders. We are
crawling. We are biting.
We are hungry. We are

a stopped carousel. We are
bodies dropped to the floor.
We are shaking. We are our own.

Still, somehow, we are
laughter. We are the doorway out.
We are (again) the doorway in.

Manistee light

Brother I don’t either understand
this skipscrapple world –

these slick bubble cars zip feverish
down rushes of notcorn of notbeets

notcabbage and the land and the land –

you should know, man, nothing
grows down here anymore except

walloped wishes and their gouged out
oil cans. Where notbloodroot spans us

sit towers land mined in the sand.
They twist us. They tornado us. No –

Do spring breezes bring the scent of smelt?

Remember? Even on strike our mother
gathered smelt by their fingery bagfuls

and fried them whole. I wish I knew
how she did it. It was almost enough.

Field theories

sold for poker chips
left cold left thawed left

bent into the yawp
ass up

let be
let air

bones
unknowns

ash
everywhere

curved space
dark – breath

dark – breath
dark – what?

sold for bluff on blind
left choked

left down
left bent

left passed
catch

How a body grabs a body.
Hungry. Even Jesus let

his bakers dozen fend
for themselves once

they got to snipping and
sipping too comfortably.

According to the literature.
Jesus. That first bite.

Its sharp. Its ache.
Its nectar. We’ll

build a fort and fill it
with maple trees gone gaudy

with cobalt wishing stones.
We’ll crawl inside and imagine

how maybe we used to laugh.
Fuck Orpheus and fuck them

for loving him for not loving who
we love when we’re the ones

down here rotting in hell.
Huh? Music?

Anyone ever really heard us sing?
Let’s move this: anyone ever asked?

Even so we sing all day. Even so we pass
our hours whatever ways we can —

We know some folk don’t listen.
Just look. And trace. Look:

What is a thing of beauty
if not us?

Bear where a clothespin clips a nose
and breath is held until —

Bear it then keep walking
toward light. Right? Wait —

We’ll ask them to name something
blue and maybe they’ll say:

popsicle tongue
broken finger

black eye. Easy enough
to say You. Don’t.

What does anyone out here know
of us? How

our tar-stained wings hide
what ergot saddles we ride. How

between our teeth we mash
the fur of maritime beasts. Still

some folk never thanks us
to manifest their pleas. Yet

what is a thing of beauty
if not us? Repeat:

dark – breath
dark – breath

dark – things we do as
we turn slowly blue:

lead laser dots through another
chalk outline; pick up today’s

halloween dress; cry
at commercials; obey; pay

defense department rates
for a sandwich; unremember

memorable jingles; jaw
sandwiches that taste just like

sandwiches; figure we can’t
expect much more than that; don’t.

Some slaves only get free enough
to crouch in Kentucky foxholes

with Cincinnati just over
one last swift river.

Our own acrid smell finally
wakes us. Eras. Halfwoke

slowroll through the wet spot.
Panic. Floor. Hard. Years.

The worst kiddie-porn
we’ll never say we see.

Bottles. Cans. Pizza box
hotels. Crusty burrito

bits. Razor blades.
Mirror shards. Cat puke.

Half a joint. Shuffled match.
Broken brick. Bloody steps.

Lit joint. Burnt fingers. Better.
Wash the hair/don’t wash the hair.

Wash the hair/don’t wash the hair.
Wash the hair/don’t wash the hair.

Own no time. Late as fuck. Strip
the bed. Consider the stain. Don’t.

The murk we blow to cool.
The slop and bang we curse.

The hum of incandescence.
The lip burns we nurse.

The best skin of our lives.
The best skins of our lives.

What is thing of beauty
if not us?

Repeat.