less hope

apologies. i was part of the joy
industrial complex, told them their bodies were 
miracles & they ate it up, sold someday
made money off soon & now. snuck an ode into the elegy,
forced the dead to smile & juke,
implied America, said destroy but offered nary step nor tool.
paid taxes knowing where the funds go.
in April, offerings to my mother’s slow murder. by May
my sister filled with the bullets i bought. June & my father’s life
locked in a box i built. my brother’s end plotted as i spend. 
idk why i told you it would be ok. not. won’t. when they aren’t
killing you they’re killing someone else. sometimes their hands
at the ends of your wrist. you (you & me) are agent & enemy.
there i was, writing anthems in a nation whose victory was my blood
made visible, mama too sugared to weep without melting, my rage
fed their comfort foaming from my racial mouth, singing
gospel for a god they beat me into loving.           lord
your tomorrow holds no sway, your heavens too late.
i’ve abandon you as you me, for me. say la vee. 
but sweet Satan—OG dark kicked out the sky
first fallen & niggered thing—what’s good?
who owns it? where it come from? 
satan, first segregation, mother of exile
what you promise in your fire? for a real freedom, 
i offer over their souls. theirs. mines 
is mines. i refuse any Hell again. i’ve known 
nearer devils. the audience & the mirror. they/i make you look weak. 
they/i clapped at my eulogies. they/i said encore, encore.
i/we wanted to stop being killed & they/i thanked me for beauty.
&, pitifully, i loved them. i thanked them. 
i took the awards & cashed the checks.
i did the one about the boy when requested, traded their names
for followers. in lieu of action, i wrote a book,
edited my war cries down to prayers. oh, devil. 
they gave me God & gave me clout.
they took my poems & took my blades. 
Satan, like you did for God, i sang.
i sang for my enemy, who was my God.
i gave it my best. i bowed &, worse, smiled. 
teach me to never bend again. 

Copyright © 2022 by Danez Smith. This poem was first printed in The Nation (August 22/29, 2022). Used with the permission of the author.