say it with your whole black mouth

say it with your whole black mouth: i am innocent

& if you are not innocent, say this: i am worthy of forgiveness, of breath after breath

i tell you this: i let blue eyes dress me in guilt
walked around stores convinced the very skin of my palm was stolen

& what good has that brought me? days filled flinching
thinking the sirens were reaching for me

& when the sirens were for me
did i not make peace with god?

so many white people are alive because
we know how to control ourselves.

how many times have we died on a whim
wielded like gallows in their sun-shy hands?

here, standing in my own body, i say: the next time
they murder us for the crime of their imaginations

i don’t know what i’ll do.

i did not come to preach of peace
for that is not the hunted’s duty.

i came here to say what i can’t say
without my name being added to a list

what my mother fears i will say

                       what she wishes to say herself

i came here to say

i can’t bring myself to write it down

sometimes i dream of pulling a red apology
from a pig’s collared neck & wake up crackin up

           if i dream of setting fire to cul-de-sacs
           i wake chained to the bed

i don’t like thinking about doing to white folks
what white folks done to us

when i do
                      can’t say

          i don’t dance

o my people

          how long will we

reach for god

          instead of something sharper?

          my lovely doe

with a taste for meat

          take

the hunter

          by his hand

More by Danez Smith

juxtaposing the black boy & the bullet

one is hard & the other tried to be

          one is fast & the other was faster

                    one is loud & one is a song
                    with one note & endless rest
          
                     one's whole life is a flash

        both spend their life
        trying to find a warmth to call home

both spark quite the debate,
some folks want to protect them/some think we should just get rid
                                      of the damn things all together.

it won’t be a bullet

becoming a little moon—brightwarm in me one night.
thank god. i can go quietly. the doctor will explain death
& i’ll go practice.
 
in the catalogue of ways to kill a black boy, find me
buried between the pages stuck together
with red stick. ironic, predictable. look at me.
 
i’m not the kind of black man who dies on the news.
i’m the kind who grows thinner & thinner & thinner
until light outweighs us, & we become it, family
gathered around my barely body telling me to go
toward myself.
 

a note on the body

your body still your body
your arms still wing
your mouth still a gun
 
          you tragic, misfiring bird
 
you have all you need to be a hero
don’t save the world, save yourself
 
you worship too much & you worship too much
 
when prayer doesn’t work:      dance, fly, fire
 
this is your hardest scene
when you think the whole sad thing might end
 
but you live      oh, you live
 
everyday you wake you raise the dead
 
          everything you do is a miracle
 

Related Poems

2019

I could string him back up the tree, if you’d like.
        Return his skin’s meaning to an easy distance, coal dust, blaze
And Willie Brown him. You
        Love how the blood muddies the original,
The way it makes a stage of my speechifying, this leeching
        Capital from his dying,
Like an activist. I know

I’m not supposed to sing

Of his ringing
        Penetrability, some hole I open impose
On the form—but all I see is bullets, bullets discerning him,
        As years ago it was rope.
I could pull it tighter, finger each bullet deeper,
        If you’d like, an inch rougher,
Far enough to where becomes that second heat, erotic.

I could use the erotic,

If you’d like,
        So ungarish, baring not too frank
A mood, subtle so you need it.— Funny
        How some dark will move illicit if you close your eyes,
The way, say, my black
        Pleasure is named too explicit for a page, but this menace
I put in it is not.

I could yank and knot

The rope, if you’d like, him like a strange fragment
        In them trees,
And the word “again” spelled out about his neck
        Would be the rope’s predicate till let wild, patterned and
Fierce his moan.
        It is a tragedy. No. It is a sonnet, how I know
Already how he ends,

But I could make him

Her, if you’d like, regender them till merely
        Canvas for your “empathy,”
Soup for my mouth. Still, if I could but just get
        This blunt,
Burnt lynched body up
        From on
Out the pocket behind my eye

All trees could be themselves again, all sound.