My uncles are the tallest men I know.
Every doorway a chance to bow 
Their heads, they love the Lord.  
Skin so dark their last name is Lenoir.          
Imagine growing up Black 
In Louisiana with a name that French 
But only able to pass for night.  
By the time each one hits thirteen,                
He’s picked enough cotton for me 
To think of blisters when I wear 
A new shirt. At fourteen, he thinks 
Of six feet with nostalgia.  
When I was small, I’d walk 
Those fields with them in that sun.  
I’d tilt and tilt my head to find 
Their faces but end up blinded—
Too much light around 
The darkness up there. I saw 
Women see them. I’d see women 
Quake. I didn’t understand that 
My uncles were not gods. None
Of them seemed to fit in a chair. 
I mean I don’t think they ever 
Relaxed. Some men are so Black 
You can’t see them. Or you can’t 
Bear to look out of fear of not 
Measuring up. I’m only half an inch 
Over six feet. I am what this century 
Calls a man. When you think your job 
Is to look out for your baby sister,                
You show her kids how to look out 
For themselves. My baby sister has 
No kids. My uncles tell great stories.  
The Black man is always the hero. 
When one dies, we speak of him
In present tense—one gets murdered 
In Vietnam one gets shot
On Madison Avenue one elected 
City councilman a principal a deacon
A yellow school bus driver 
With bone cancer a man 
With more wives than children 
A deacon a man with more children 
Than he can remember a mason 
A deacon. I should mention 
The mean things they did.  
No grave is deep enough.  
The Black man is always the hero.  
He will walk you to the edge of a field, 
Squat close so you can hear him, 
And point, saying everything 
Your grandfather planted, everything 
His children reaped, all this is yours.
You have to grow 
Into it, your legs stretching out along 
The floor and farther beyond as you 
Fall asleep in the best chair you got.

Copyright © 2023 by Jericho Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 18, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.