This is what our dying looks like. You believe in the sun. I believe I can’t love you. Always be closing, Said our favorite professor before He let the gun go off in his mouth. I turned 29 the way any man turns In his sleep, unaware of the earth Moving beneath him, its plates in Their places, a dated disagreement. Let’s fight it out, baby. You have Only so long left—a man turning In his sleep—so I take a picture. I won’t look at it, of course. It’s His bad side, his Mr. Hyde, the hole In a husband’s head, the O Of his wife’s mouth. Every night, I take a pill. Miss one, and I’m gone. Miss two, and we’re through. Hotels Bore me, unless I get a mountain view, A room in which my cell won’t work, And there’s nothing to do but see The sun go down into the ground That cradles us as any coffin can.
“O Blood of the River of songs, O songs of the River of Blood,” Let me lie down. Let my words Lie sound in the mouths of men Repeating invocations pure And perfect as a moan That mounts in the mouth of Bessie Smith. Blues for the angels kicked out Of heaven. Blues for the angels Who miss them still. Blues For my people and what water They know. O weary drinkers Drinking from the bloody river, Why go to heaven with Harlem So close? Why sing of rivers With fathers of our own to miss? I remember mine and taste a stain Like blood coursing the body Of a man chased by a mob. I write His running, his sweat: here, He climbs a poplar for the sky, But it is only sky. The river? Follow me. You’ll see. We tried To fly and learned we couldn’t Swim. Dear singing river full Of my blood, are we as loud under Water? Is it blood that binds Brothers? Or is it the Mississippi Running through the fattest vein Of America? When I say home, I mean I wanted to write some Lines. I wanted to hear the blues, But here I am swimming in the river Again. What flows through the fat Veins of a drowned body? What America can a body call Home? When I say Congo, I mean Blood. When I say Nile, I mean blood. When I say Euphrates, I mean, If only you knew what blood We have in common. So much, In Louisiana, they call a man like me Red. And red was too dark For my daddy. And my daddy was Too dark for America. He ran Like a man from my mother And me. And my mother’s sobs Are the songs of Bessie Smith Who wears more feathers than Death. O the death my people refuse To die. When I was 18, I wrote down The river though I couldn’t win A race, climbed a tree that winter, then Fell, flat on my wet, red face. Line After line, I read all the time, But “there was nothing I could do About race.”