For my Brother(s)

My brother was a dark-skinned boy
with a sweet tooth, a smart mouth,
and a wicked thirst. At seventeen,
when I left him for America, his voice
was staticked with approaching adulthood,
he ate everything in the house, grew
what felt like an inch a day, and wore
his favorite shirt until mom disappeared it.
Tonight I’m grateful he slaked his thirst
in another country, far from this place
where a black boy’s being calls like crosshairs
to conscienceless men with guns and conviction.

I remember my brother’s ashy knees
and legs, how many errands he ran on them
up and down roads belonging to no one
and every one. And I’m grateful
he was a boy in a country of black boys,
in the time of walks to the store
on Aunty Marge’s corner to buy contraband
sweeties and sweetdrinks with change
snuck from mom’s handbag or dad’s wallet—
how that was a black boy’s biggest transgression,
and so far from fatal it feels an un-American dream.

Tonight, I think of my brother
as a black boy’s lifeless body spins me
into something like prayer—a keening
for the boy who went down the road, then
went down fighting, then went down dead.
My brother was a boy in the time of fistfights
he couldn’t win and that couldn’t stop
him slinging his weapon tongue anyway,
was a boy who went down fighting,
and got back up wearing his black eye
like a trophy. My brother who got up,
who grew up, who got to keep growing.

Tonight I am mourning the black boys
who are not my brother and who are
my brothers. I am mourning the boys
who walk the wrong roads, which is any road
in America. Tonight I am mourning
the death warrant hate has made of their skin—
black and bursting with such ordinary
hungers and thirsts, such abundant frailty,
such constellations of possibility, our boys
who might become men if this world spared them,
if it could see them whole—boys, men, brothers—human.

Variations in Blue

For Frank X Walker

FXW: I don’t know how to swim
Me: What?!
FXW: There were no pools for Black Folk when I was coming up

In sleep’s 3-D theatre: home,
a green island surrounded
by the blue of ocean. Zoom
to the heart, see the Couva
swimming pool filled with us
—black children shrieking
our joy in a haze of sun; our life-
guard, Rodney, his skin flawless
and gleaming—black as fresh oil
—his strut along the pool’s edge,
his swoonworthy smile; Daddy
a beach-ball-bellied Poseidon,
droplets diamonding his afro;
my brother, hollering as he jumps
into his bright blue fear, his return
to air gasping and triumphant.
And there, the girl I was: dumpling
thick and sun-brown, stripped
down to the red two-piece suit
my mother had made by hand,
afloat in the blue bed of water,
the blue sky beaming above.
When I wake up, I’m in America
where Dorothy Dandridge
once emptied a pool with her pinkie,
and in Texas a black girl’s body
draped in its hopeful, tasseled bikini,
struck earth instead of water,
a policeman’s blue-clad knees
pinning her back, her indigo wail
a siren. I want this to be a dream,
but I am awake and in this place
where the only blue named home
is a song and we are meant to sink,
to sputter, to drown.

Nothing to Declare

There is no name for what rises in you 
as you enter the dim world of the taxi
and wheel through the night, escorted 
by smooth jazz and a battalion of street-
lights. At the airport, you heave the bags 
you have stuffed to the limits of carriage 
and check them in. You have no trouble 
knowing what to do with your empty 
hands. At security, the usual stripping.
You surrender your body to the scan, 
the searching sweep, as if what is dangerous 
is not what cannot be so easily detected.
You comply. At the gate, grateful to be 
early, you sit with your books, plug in 
devices that tether you to this place 
you’re meant to be leaving, that crowd 
out thoughts of arrival and its bittersweet
complications. Yuh going home or just visiting,
someone will ask, and you never know
how you will answer. You know the bones
of your mother’s brown arms will wind 
around you, her breath against your neck
will baptize you again in names you have 
no one to call you in the other place 
you belong to. You know the waiting
untended in you will surge toward her,
and you know something else will sink, 
sulk itself into a familiar, necessary sleep.
You know yourself now only as the ocean 
knows this island—always pulling away, 
always, always, returning.

Related Poems

Whose Sleeves: American Tagasode

your shape is in the robe    worn or not
a roominess of you folds into its cloth

a sachet in the drawer from which the air
of the place was taken   fixed of    you’re here

the smell has temperature and space
the wider warmth that buttered popcorn tastes

and not you    it folds into a time’s clot
a sachet in a drawer   personage of its own still you

                                 *

I have to wear a bus to Rikers Island with
opaque tears up to my neck to get in       to see you

in your two inch thick glass robe I have to imagine
you naked under   to place my hand saying

I miss you against you where I can’t touch and love
has to break across insulating space       still warm

I have to stand my day in the folding up put away
given you as time   with you. I smell I need you on my clothes

                                 *

I smell gunfire folded in      to every turn
the city’s track laps into its hands on race

then files away not guilty    I smell the drawers
of the records they keep   folded away    from stands taken

away  distance doesn’t dissipate
the space between the bullet holes in you in me   folded

you are the map I have to sleep with in my pocket to be sure
I know how to get out of here

                                 *

your shape is in the robe    the sharp creases
of its fold when you wore it   blocked into

the counterpoint around you   that even
folded stood you out to me   that they couldn’t

see you   that one day   they would shoot
always folded into the robe you wore

gun or not   phone mistaken or empty handed   innocent
or not   there is this fold on itself  we sleep in

           in the fabric
           of this country’s culture

ED ASNER

“...style...”

Grind me Nautica, Vic Tayback.
Line chef para Alice arm hair,
fore-sausage & anchor tat,
snatch, a silvered chest, V-
neck, sleep hard Weezy—
Zebra-Jive-Turkey.

As in how do you do that?
Glimpse, a tad, pecking
the surface glaze, or Dove
Men+Care. iNot be puppy breath,
tan streak down the cheek, scar,
or Bowie’s bass: VANILLA ICE 

tricks a pompadour. Jim Carrey
a detour, when slips the tongue.
Airborne pellet in seltzer fizz. ED— 
father had a junk business...barrels 
of jimmied pistols...they wouldn’t fire 
...but they were good for kids.