Ode to Black Air Forces

Praise to the obsidian sole, which kisses the glass-
coated asphalt before becoming airborne. Praise 
to the black tongue, camouflaged, yet still 
flashing a warning of give no shit. Praise to the 
magic of ones turned two-piece, left and right 
feet a pair of wingmen to all that is fair in love. 
Original uniform of the fighter, multi-mission, 
robbin’ hoodies from designer shops to redistribute 
wealth. Praise to the weave of your vamp poised 
to catch flight into ribs at night, at noon, 
whenever. Praise to the aight whatever, 
aight bet, spoken wordlessly via emblem, 
prophecy of manual dexterity, long rumored
tale of ten toes down come true. Praise to 
your run through rap charts, Nelly who sang
of your stomp and survival, to 1982
the year of your birth, your absorption of
pressure waves from apartheid bombings,
Tough, by Kurtis Blow rerouted into
the democratization of dark energy. Ode to 
your essence making up 73% of the cosmos,
the power of 310 Angola aircraft in a single heel, 
to each uptown caressing a possible president,
to a force beyond force = mass x acceleration.
Fast lil ma working behind the cash register. 
On the way home she passes home. 
Ode to what you gave her, what you give her, 
wherever she’s going.


Copyright © 2023 by Bryan Byrdlong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I’ve been interested in the idea that Blackness has access to a fuller humanity or a freedom that includes the ability to embody a certain toughness without fear. The shoe becomes a personification of that narrative, that energy, and also that history. Sometimes people can hover like a cloud. Other times they must burst like a storm. The symbol isn’t always a manifestation of the physical; rather, something internal. I think turning toward the future via the object allows for an expansiveness that makes that freedom feel closer.”
—Bryan Byrdlong