on the days the dark is vanta vicious
enough to swallow whole every holy
thing like my mother and the stigmata
she bleeds from a totem of raising black

on the days the cold is cold as all get out but
there’s no place to get in when even breath is
blade and hurts to think of thinking of breathing
let alone laughing

on the days I feel frayed and ‘fraid ripped
and torn from the lot plucked from family
and ‘nem and even myself sometimes my
name is the name of a stranger

my face still the face in the hole of a
hoodie just snatched out my own world
never mine and dragged and scraped
across the rough textured parts of this
being alive thing

i’m reminded of what it feels
like to have my head alight to
have it catch fire and blaze-lick
high above me and all this

i’m reminded to return to the truth that oh
yeah me my little self a match my little
self a cardboard cutout might could burn
this whole so-called kingdom down

More by Jason Reynolds

This Has Always Been Our Active Shooter Drill

(for Stephon Clark’s grandmother)

shave your face. a haircut
even. kiss your kids. your
partner. your parents. tell
them you listened. you kissed
their asses like you were
taught. kissed their asses and
still. walk. or run. don’t
matter. glue your identification
to your forehead. wrap yourself
in the flag. hand over heart. hit 
the high note. hide your slang 
under your tongue. delete
your profile. scrub the net. clean 
your blood. prepare your body 
for peepholes no one 
will ever peer into.

Related Poems

Burn

The wind then, through seams of bluestem,
or switchgrass swayed by a coyote’s passing.

Where the fabric gapes, Barthes said,
lies the sensual. A prairie cut

by winding seeps, or winds or shearing wings.
Mare’s tails, mackerels, cirrus,

distance dispersed as light. Under a buzzard’s bank
and spiral the prairie folds and unfolds.

Here between the stands of bluestem, I am interruption.
I rake my fingers over culms and panicles.

Here seeds burr into my sleeves, spur each hem.
In a prairie, I am chance. I am rupture. The wind—

thief, ruffian, quick-fingered sky, snatches a kink
of my hair. The broken nap falls, wound round

like a prairie snake, a coil of barbed wire, a snare
for the unwary. In the fall, volunteer naturalists

will wrench invading roots and scour grassy densities
with fire. Wick, knot, gnarl, my kindled hair

will flare, burn, soften into ash, ash that will settle,
sieve through soil, compost for roots to suck

and worms to cast out, out into the loess that raises
redtop, turkeyfoot, sideoats grama,

and all the darkened progenies of grass
that reach and strive and shape dissent from light.

Quilts

for Sally Sellers

Like a fading piece of cloth
I am a failure

No longer do I cover tables filled with food and laughter
My seams are frayed my hems falling my strength no longer able
To hold the hot and cold

I wish for those first days
When just woven I could keep water
From seeping through
Repelled stains with the tightness of my weave
Dazzled the sunlight with my
Reflection

I grow old though pleased with my memories
The tasks I can no longer complete
Are balanced by the love of the tasks gone past

I offer no apology only
this plea:

When I am frayed and strained and drizzle at the end
Please someone cut a square and put me in a quilt
That I might keep some child warm

And some old person with no one else to talk to
Will hear my whispers

And cuddle
near

VOODOO V: ENEMY BE GONE

The storm left a wound seeping,
a boulevard yawning, some
memories fractured, a
kiss exploded, she left
no stone resting, a bone
army floating, rats sated,
she left the horizon sliced
and ornery, she left in a hurry,
in a huff, in all her glory,
she took with her a kingdom
of sax and dream books,
a hundred scattered chants,
some earth burned in her
name, and she took flight,
all pissed and raucous, like
a world-hipped woman
makin’ room.