The Pedestrian

When the pickup truck, with its side mirror,
almost took out my arm, the driver’s grin

reflected back; it was just a horror

show that was never going to happen,
don’t protest, don’t bother with the police

for my benefit, he gave me a smile—

he too was startled, redness in his face—
when I thought I was going, a short while,

to get myself killed: it wasn’t anger

when he bared his teeth, as if to caution
calm down, all good, no one died, ni[ght, neighbor]—

no sense getting all pissed, the commotion

of the past is the past; I was so dim,
he never saw me—of course, I saw him.

Related Poems

A Louder Thing

         for Kenneka Jenkins and her mother

What is it about my mother’s face, a bright burn
when I think back, her teeth, her immaculate teeth

that I seldom saw or knew, her hair like braided
black liquorice. I am thinking of my mother’s face,

because she is like the mother in the news whose
daughter was found dead, frozen inside a hotel freezer.

My mother is this mourning mother who begged
the staff to search for her daughter, but was denied.

Black mothers are often seen pleading for their children,
shown stern and wailing, held back somehow by police

or caution tape—

a black mother just wants to see her baby’s body.
a black mother just wants to cover her baby’s body

with a sheet on the street. A black mother
leaves the coffin open for all the world to see,

and my mother is no different. She is worried
about seeing the last minutes of me: pre-ghost,

stumbling alone through empty hotel hallways
failing to find balance, searching for a friend,

a center, anyone, to help me home. Yes.
I’ve gotten into a van with strangers.

I’ve taken drugs with people that did not care
how hard or fast I smoked or blew.

But what did I know of Hayden? What did I know
of that poem besides my mother’s hands, her fist,

her prayers and premonitions? What did I know
of her disembodied voice hovering over the seams

of my life like the vatic song the whip-poor-will
makes when it can sense a soul dispersing?

Still. My mother wants to know where I am,
who I am with, and when will I land.

I get frustrated by her insistence on my safety
and survival. What a shame I am. I’m sorry, mom.

Some say Black love is different. Once,
I asked my mother why she always yelled

at me when I was little. She said I never listened
to her when she spoke to me in hushed tones

like a white mother would, meaning soft volume
is a privilege. Yeah, that’s right. I am using a stereotype

to say a louder thing. I am saying my mother
was screaming when she lost me in the mall once.

I keep hearing that voice everywhere I go.
I follow my name. The music of her rage sustains me.

You Can't Survive on Salt Water

                                —seven haiku for old orleans—


1.
dead dogs hang from trees
bloated barges sit on the
wrong side of levees

2.
dumb pigeons have flown
now it's people's turn to perch
roasting atop roofs

3.
a caravan of
yellow buses drowns because
the mayor can't drive

4.
official death counts
exclude so-called looters shot
on sight of their skin

5.
dry folk uptown hold
their noses, rejecting wet
people's funky stank

6.
things that go bump in 
the night: your boat against a 
dead baby's body

7.
a son returns, finds
four-month-old bones wearing his
missing mother's dress

Found Fragment on Ambition

v.
if a hood is a sense of place
& a sense of place is identity
then identity is a hood & adult
hood is being insecure in any
hood a hood scares the whitest
folks why folks scared to stop
in the hood & why folks stop
wearing a hood & call it white
nationalism if i tried i would
fail to pass if i failed i would
try to pass when can i retire my
bowl stop needing to beg for my
person hood you see academically
my ghetto pass was revoked please
sir can you direct me to the window
to turn in my man card where
can i apply to enter the whiteness
protection program ive lost
my found identity is a hood
a hood is a sense of place
a place places a hood hood in us