what the dead know by heart

- 1996-

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

More by Donte Collins

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.

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.