summer, somewhere

somewhere, a sun. below, boys brown
as rye play the dozens & ball, jump 

in the air & stay there. boys become new 
moons, gum-dark on all sides, beg bruise

-blue water to fly, at least tide, at least 
spit back a father or two. i won’t get started.

history is what it is. it knows what it did.
bad dog. bad blood. bad day to be a boy

color of a July well spent. but here, not earth
not heaven, we can’t recall our white shirts

turned ruby gowns. here, there’s no language 
for officer or law, no color to call white.

if snow fell, it’d fall black. please, don’t call 
us dead, call us alive someplace better.

we say our own names when we pray.
we go out for sweets & come back. 


this is how we are born: come morning
after we cypher/feast/hoop, we dig

a new one from the ground, take
him out his treebox, shake worms

from his braids. sometimes they’ll sing
a trapgod hymn (what a first breath!)  

sometimes it’s they eyes who lead
scanning for bonefleshed men in blue.

we say congrats, you’re a boy again! 
we give him a durag, a bowl, a second chance.

we send him off to wander for a day
or ever, let him pick his new name.

that boy was Trayvon, now called RainKing.
that man Sean named himself i do, i do.

O, the imagination of a new reborn boy
but most of us settle on alive


sometimes a boy is born
right out the sky, dropped from

a bridge between starshine & clay.
one boy showed up pulled behind

a truck, a parade for himself
& his wet red train. years ago

we plucked brothers from branches
unpeeled their naps from bark.

sometimes a boy walks into his room
then walks out into his new world

still clutching wicked metals. some boys
waded here through their own blood. 

does it matter how he got here if we’re all here
to dance? grab a boy, spin him around.

if he asks for a kiss, kiss him.
if he asks where he is, say gone


dear air where you used to be, dear empty Chucks 
by front door, dear whatever you are now, dear son,

they buried you all business, no ceremony. 
cameras, t-shirts, essays, protest 

then you were just dead. some nights
i want to dig you up, bury you right.

scrape dirt until my hands are raw 
& wounds pack themselves with mud. 

i want to dig you up, let it rain twice 
before our next good-bye.

 dear sprinkler dancer, i can’t tell if I’m crying 
or i’m the sky, but praise your sweet rot 

unstitching under soil, praise dandelions
 draining water from your greening, precious flesh. 

i’ll plant a garden on top
 of where your hurt stopped. 



 just this morning the sun laid a yellow not-palm
on my face & i woke knowing your hands 

were once the only place in the world. 
this very morning i woke up 

& remembered unparticular Tuesdays, 
my head in your lap, scalp covered in grease 

& your hands, your hands, those hands
my binary gods. Those milk hands, bread hands, 

hands in the air in church hands, cut-up fish hands,
for my own good hands, back talk backhands, hurt more 

than me hands, ain’t asking no mo’ hands
everything i need come from those hands, 

tired & still grabbing grease, hum
while she makes her son royal onyx hands. 

mama, how far am i 
gone from home?


no need for geography
now, we safe everywhere.

point to whatever you please
& call it church, home, or sweet love.

paradise is a world where everything
is sanctuary & nothing is a gun.  

here, if it grows it knows its place
in history. yesterday, a poplar 

told me of old forest
heavy with fruits i’d call uncle

bursting red pulp & set afire, 
harvest of dark wind chimes. 

after i fell from its limb
it kissed sap into my wound.

do you know what it’s like to live
on land who loves you back?


i loved a boy once & once he made me
a red dirge, skin casket, no burial.

left me to become a hum in a choir 
of bug mouths. he was my pastor 

in violet velvet, my night nurse
my tumor, my sick heart, my bad blood

all over his Tims. he needed me 
so much he had to end me. 

i was his fag sucked into ash, 
his lungs my final resting place. 

my baby turned me to smoke
choked on my name ‘til it was gone. 

i was his secret until i wasn’t,
alive until not. outside our closet

i found a garden. he would love it 
here. he could love me here.


dear brother from another
time, today some stars gave in

to the black around them
& i knew it was you.

my ace, my g, my fellow
kingdomless king

they’ve made you a boy
 i don’t know

replaced my friend
with a hashtag.

 wish i could tell you
 his hands are draped

from my neck, but his
shield is shaped like

a badge. i leave revenge
hopelessly to God. 



last night’s dream was a red June
filled with our mouths sticky

with sugar, we tiny teethed brown beasts
of corner stores, fingers always

dusted chetto gold. do you remember
those yellow months? our calves burned

all day biking each other around on pegs
taking turns being steed & warrior

at the park we stormed like distant shores
our little ashy wars, shoes lit with blue sparks

those summers we chased anybody
who would say our names, jumped fences

just to prove we could jump, fingers stained
piff green with stank, riding around

barely old enough to ride around, dreaming
a world to conquer? i wish you ended me, Sweet Cain.


if we dream the old world 
we wake up hands up

sometimes we unfuneral a boy 
who shot another boy to here

& who was once a reaper we make 
a brother, a crush, a husband, a duet

of sweet remission. say the word
i can make any black boy a savior

make him a flock of ravens
his body burst into ebon seraphs. 

this, our hand-crafted religion. 
we are small gods of redemption. 

we dance until guilt turns to sweat. 
we sweat until we flood & drown.

don't fret, we don’t die. they can't kill 
the boy on your shirt again.


the forest is a flock of boys
who never got to grow up

blooming into forever
afros like maple crowns 

reaching sap-slow toward sky. watch
Forest run in the rain, branches

melting into paper-soft curls, duck
under the mountain for shelter. watch

the mountain reveal itself a boy. 
watch Mountain & Forest playing

in the rain, watch the rain melt everything
into a boy with brown eyes & wet naps—

the lake turns into a boy in the rain
the swamp—a boy in the rain

the fields of lavender—brothers
dancing between the storm. 


my stolen lover,

when i want to kiss you
 i kiss the ground.

i shout down sirens.
they bring no safety.

my king turned my ache
my one turned into my nothing.

all last month was spent in bed
with your long gone name.

what good is a name 
if no one answers back?

i know when the wind feels
as if it’s made of hands

& i feel like i’m made of water
it’s you trying to save me

from drowning in myself, but i can’t 
wed wind. I’m not water. 


dear dear
my most distant love—

when i dream of you i wake
in a field so blue i drown.

if you were here, we could play
Eden all day, but fruit here 

grows strange, i know before me
here lived something treacherous.

whose arms hold you now
after my paradise grew from chaos?

whose name do you make
thunder the room?

is he a good man?
does he know my face?

does he look like me? 
do i keep him up at night?


how old am i? today, i’m today.
i’m as old as whatever light touches me.

some nights i’m new as the fire at my feet
some nights i’m a star, glamorous, ancient

& already extinguished. we citizens 
of an unpopular heaven

& low-attended crucifixions. listen
i’ve accepted what i was given 

be it my name or be it my ender’s verdict.
when i was born, i was born a bull’s-eye.

i spent my life arguing how i mattered
until it didn’t matter. 

who knew my haven
would be my coffin?

dead is the safest i’ve ever been. 
i’ve never been so alive.


if you press your ear to the dirt
you can hear it hum, not like it’s filled

with beetles & other low gods
but like a tongue rot with gospel

& other glories. listen to the dirt
crescendo a kid back. 

come. celebrate. this 
is everyday. everyday 

holy. everyday high 
holiday. everyday new 

year. every year, days get longer. 
time clogged with boys. the boys

o the boys. they still come
in droves. the old world 

keeps choking them. our new one 
can’t stop spitting them out. 


dear ghost i made,

i was raised with a healthy fear of the dark.
i turned the light bright, but you just kept

being born, kept coming for me, kept being
so dark, i got sca…i was doing my job.


dear badge number 

what did i do wrong?
be born? be black? meet you?


ask the mountainboy to put you on
his shoulders if you want to see

the old world, ask him for some lean
-in & you’ll be home. step off him

& walk around your block.
grow wings & fly above your city.

all the guns fire toward heaven.
warning shots mince your feathers.

fall back to the metal-less side
of the mountainboy, cry if you need to.

that world of laws rendered us into dark 
matter. we asked for nothing but our names

in a mouth we’ve known 
for decades. some were blessed 

to know the mouth.
our decades betrayed us. 


there, i drowned, back before, once. 
there, i knew how to swim but couldn’t.

there, men stood by shore & watched me blue.
there, i was a dead fish, the river’s prince. 

there, i had a face & then didn’t.
there, my mother cried over me

but i wasn’t there. i was here, by my own
water, singing a song i learned somewhere

south of somewhere worse.
now, everywhere i am is 

the center of everything. i must 
be the lord of something. 

what was i before? a boy? a son?
a warning? a myth? i whistled

now i’m the god of whistling.
i built my Olympia downstream. 


you are not welcome here. trust
the trip will kill you. go home.

we earned this paradise 
by a death we didn’t deserve.

i’m sure there are other heres.
a somewhere for every kind

of somebody, a heaven of brown 
girls braiding on golden stoops

but here—  
                     how could i ever explain to you—

            someone prayed we’d rest in peace
            & here we are

            in peace          whole          all summer

Copyright © 2016 by Danez Smith. This poem was first printed in Poetry (January 2016). Used with the permission of the author.