pantoum for aiyana & not a single hashtag

            look!
There go a Black gxrl 
body still tethered
to her head

There go a Black gxrl, shirt still dry
no river of marrow or tears
following her up the block
no bile from her head 

Can we call her into form? not a river of marrow & small tears
of sweaty fabric, but manna & honeysuckle
from her skull no bile, but beatniks
in bloom. Can we celebrate the child on this side of the grass?

her sweat fabric, honeyed & unmanned 
the gxrl young, a fresh world of gardenia
bloom-ing. Can’t we celebrate? The child’s on this side of the grass! 
Open the window & usher in a new god! A breeze

gardenia-young, the gxrl a world made fresh.
in her hands—piano keys, sticks of cinnamon gum, 
a window into the new. God, an usher opening
a psalm, free to be the thing she was truly made of:

piano keys. In her hands, cinnamon sticks like guns
in the wrong light—never mind that. Today she lives. 
A thing to be freed. Made of psalms, & truly
holy. The gxrl will turn flowers into wine. Spills herself no more

wrong. & today, she lives. Never mind the light
offering summer halo. it is a myth, that we die, anyway. We too
holy. No more spills, no more flowers. From wine, gxrl churns herself a will. 
Rises from the concrete, her arms full of clove. Her mother’s yard a throne.

Anyway, the myth is that we die. We too, summer offering. Halos 
like birds on our shoulders. The gxrl, gardenia, & we planted her
full of clove & her mother. She raises a throne from the concrete, a yard of arms.
The gxrl, a god king. The gxrl, a map of good. The gxrl, a thing worth trending, after all. Just
            look!

Related Poems

The Prestige

the poem begins not where the knife enters
but where the blade twists.
Some wounds cannot be hushed
no matter the way one writes of blood
& what reflection arrives in its pooling.
The poem begins with pain as a mirror
inside of which I adjust a tie the way my father taught me
before my first funeral & so the poem begins
with old grief again at my neck. On the radio,
a singer born in a place where children watch the sky
for bombs is trying to sell me on love
as something akin to war.
I have no lie to offer as treacherous as this one.
I was most like the bullet when I viewed the body as a door.
I’m past that now. No one will bury their kin
when desire becomes a fugitive
between us. There will be no folded flag
at the doorstep. A person only gets to be called a widow once,
and then they are simply lonely. The bluest period.
Gratitude, not for love itself, but for the way it can end
without a house on fire.
This is how I plan to leave next.
Unceremonious as birth in a country overrun
by the ungrateful living. The poem begins with a chain
of well-meaning liars walking one by one
off the earth’s edge. That’s who died
and made me king. Who died and made you.

Hoodie

A gray hoodie will not protect my son
from rain, from the New England cold.

I see the partial eclipse of his face
as his head sinks into the half-dark

and shades his eyes. Even in our
quiet suburb with its unlocked doors,

I fear for his safety—the darkest child
on our street in the empire of blocks.

Sometimes I don’t know who he is anymore
traveling the back roads between boy and man.

He strides a deep stride, pounds a basketball
into wet pavement. Will he take his shot

or is he waiting for the open-mouthed
orange rim to take a chance on him? I sing

his name to the night, ask for safe passage
from this borrowed body into the next  

and wonder who could mistake him
for anything but good.

Afterward but not Afterword

State of Florida v. Patrick Gene Scarborough, David Erwin Beagles, Ollie Odell Stoutamire, William Ted Collinsworth, 1959, case #3445.

Later I lower my head to my father’s chest,
the hollow where I hear his heart stop, if stop
meant speed to a stop, if hearts could gasp like a 
a mouth when events stun the heart to a stop
for a moment. His eyes fill with anger
then, collecting himself, he rises up to slump
his shoulders back down. The fists. The eyes.
Nothing can raise up, nothing feels essential,
a black body raising up in the south and all…
To a life starting here, ethereal, yet flesh, and all?
And even if you could, what all good would it do?
The damage and all. Black birds flock, 
dulcet yet mourning, an uproar of need,
a cry of black but blue is not the sky
in which they gender. My God, if life is not pain, 
no birth brought me into this world,
or could life begin here where it ends—
no shelter, no comfort, no ride home—
and must I go on, saying more? Pointing
them out in a court of men? Didn’t
the trees already finger the culprits? Creatures
make a way where there is no way. That way
after I lean into what’s left of me—and must I
(yes, you must) explain, over and over,
how my blood came to rest here—my body,
now labeled evidence, sows what I have yet to say.