“you don’t even know me/i’m hanging from a tree”

you don’t even know me, i’m hanging from a dream.
me? in my last life? savage.  siren wet
& dreamlynched. me? was goodest pussy, nine lives all murdered
for my talent at my color, my sex, whatever he killed me for
i was the best at it. best blood-lipped dusk, 
best clotted sweetness, best bluing. me? once, i was born
the rope, not the neck. once, i was a fire full of niggers
(you know it’s happened, someone’s said that,
someone heard about the building candled while full
of screaming lil wicks & laughed. i was never that laugh.)
i was the hymn of nearing sirens in the dying ear
announcing not yet, sound entering & touching the mind.
i was mine once
                  & again in this life i’m mostly my own
somewhere far from your knowing, deep
in a Black mood, the wade of my heart making its way
to my brain carrying information, secrets, the rumor
of my body, the story i tell for wealth & the wealth
is worthless. they keep killing me, every time
i’m back by summer. i crawl out the sun. gold is useless
but in every life, i have it. look at me, up here
dangling like the poplar’s hidden tongue, like my tongue. 
look past the party at my feet, the children giddy
for a scorched finger. look me in what was my face 
deep into the smoky pit i used to pray & kiss
find my final, plaquewarm star. 

Copyright © 2022 by Danez Smith. This poem was first printed in American Poetry Review, Vol. 51, Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2022). Used with the permission of the author.