they need some of us to die

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.


Copyright © 2020 by Donte Collins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 10, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

"White supremacy, specifically racial capitalism is a public health crisis. My mom tried to tell me this and maybe I was too young to hear her or care to understand what would eventually take her life. What almost took my sister who, in a pandemic, is an essential worker risking her life while receiving minimum wage. All of my siblings have underlying health conditions. This poem was written after a phone call with my sister explaining being forced to work while cases of Covid-19 spread throughout the nursing home. It is written toward my uncle and his siblings who often weren’t believed when speaking about their pain to white doctors.”
Donte Collins