they need some of us to die

- 1996-
For Uncle Paul N’nem

hell nah over my dead—i paid mine. I checked
Black & subtraction knows what it did. made Black
a box to check. subtraction doesn’t know how even
a sigh seasons the roux & the second breath my mother
was always trying to catch. american. emergency.
subtraction doesn’t know Black’s many bodies & body’s
of water. though subtraction does. sunken. gifting the sea’s
new strange stones. subtraction reopened the barbershops &
bowling alleys. insists church. sent us home with inhalers &
half-assed sentences: in god - we - the people - vs - degradation
vs - a new packaged deliverance. homicide. hallelujah.
i’ll be damned. i’ll be back before i’ll be buried. i been Black
& ain’t slept since. subtraction needs my blood to water
their weapons to subtract my blood. do you see the necessity
for dreaming? or else the need to stay awake. to watch. worried.
the hand. invisible. make a peace sign. then a pistol.

More by Donte Collins

Prayer Severing the Cycle

for Tomica

My love is as ancient as my blood.
 
And of course my blood is still mine
 
because a woman, sweetened black
 
with good song, pulled me from the river
 
like an axe pulled back from the bark.
 
I learned love, first, as scar.
 
And of course my love is only mine
 
because I found the nerve to say it is.
 
Ha, My love is mine.
 
But was first my mother’s. Not the how
 
but the why. But was first her mother’s.
 
Not the how but the why.
 
Not the how; Not the how; Not the how;
Not the how; Not the how; Not the how.
 
I am bored with this beat. I seek
 
a different dance toward death.
 
Lord, listen up. Lean in:
 
I crave a love that happens as sweetly
 
as it was named. If love must be swung,
 
let it soften. Not split.

what the dead know by heart

lately, when asked how are you, i
respond with a name no longer living

Rekia, Jamar, Sandra

i am alive by luck at this point. i wonder
often: if the gun that will unmake me
is yet made, what white birth

will bury me, how many bullets, like a
flock of blue jays, will come carry my black
to its final bed, which photo will be used

to water down my blood. today i did
not die and there is no god or law to
thank. the bullet missed my head

and landed in another. today, i passed
a mirror and did not see a body, instead
a suggestion, a debate, a blank

post-it note there looking back. i
haven't enough room to both rage and
weep. i go to cry and each tear turns

to steam. I say I matter and a ghost
white hand appears over my mouth

Related Poems

The Virus

Dubbed undetectable, I can’t kill
The people you touch, and I can’t
Blur your view
Of the pansies you’ve planted
Outside the window, meaning
I can’t kill the pansies, but I want to.
I want them dying, and I want
To do the killing. I want you
To heed that I’m still here
Just beneath your skin and in
Each organ
The way anger dwells in a man
Who studies the history of his nation.
If I can’t leave you
Dead, I’ll have
You vexed. Look. Look
Again: show me the color
Of your flowers now.

Rambling

in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary

In general population, census
is consensus—ain't nowhere to run
to in these walls, walls like a mind—
We visitors stand in a yellow circle
so the tower can frisk us with light,
finger the barrels on thirsty rifles.

I got rambling, rambling on my mind

In general population, madness runs
swift through the river changing, changing
in hearts, men tacked in their chairs,
resigned to hope we weave into air,
talking this and talking that and one brutha
asks Tell us how to get these things
They got, these houses, these cars.
We want the real revolution
. Things...

I got rambling, got rambling on my mind

In the yellow circle the night stops
like a boy shot running from a Ruger 9mm
carrying .44 magnum shells, a sista
crying in the glass booth to love's law,
to violence of backs bent over to the raw
libido of men, cracking, cracking, crack...

I got rambling, rambling on my mind

But My Chains

But my loyalty
       points—my purchasing
       power. Nothing.

But my economies
       of scale, my digital
       compression :: companionship.

But my all-
       you-can-eat
       loneliness, my rail-
       rapid integration.

But my market-
       driven love
       handles, my accrued
       vacancy.

But my taste
       in artisanal
       bootstrapism.

But my choice
       of protein, of pit-baked
       avarice, of indulgences.
       [CHURCH collects
       as does CAESAR.]

But my supply
       side floods, my O’
       so buoyant home
       staked and sandbagged
       on striving’s pebbly shore.

But my internal
       combustion, my miles,
       my carcinogenic
       Kingdom Come. Nothing.

But my fast casual
       history—every morsel
       wrapped in a bank
       notes’ blood-sketched
       hagiography.

But my user-friendly
       righteousness, my Gross
       Domestic Amnesia.
       In place of the old wants …
       we finds new wants.

But my comfort,
       my tariffed aches,
       my engorged
       prerogatives. I made
       this money,
       you didn’t. Right, Ted?

But my ability to believe
       that what I’ve paid for,
       I have made. Nothing

       to lose, except ownership
       of this wallet-sized tomb—
       these six crisp walls.