Poets

Search more than 3,000 biographies of contemporary and classic poets.

Aaron Coleman

Aaron Coleman is the author of Threat Come Close (Four Way Books, 2018), winner of the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, and St. Trigger (Button Poetry, 2016), winner of the Button Chapbook Prize. The recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and a Cave Canem Fellowship, Coleman is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature and Translation Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

Aaron Coleman. Photo credit: Katherine Simóne Reynolds
Photo by: Katherine Simóne Reynolds

By This Poet

3

Very Many Hands

You remind me of the Underground Railroad. I’ve learned to watch
for the kerosene lamp aglare in your distance. Past the fuel and wick
at the far end of your forest, there’s a mud basement, a soot-slick coal
cellar with my sleeping body’s name on it. I could lie still forever in
that part of you. But then I’d never make it North.

                                              *  *  *

I am made of what I am afraid to remember. Come tell me more
about what I was—about the brothers, mind-ancient now, fleeing
Mississippi with spilled moon ready in their eyes. Go back and tell me
about that one before that one that sold a mother. Wait. Then give 
me more about the buzz of war, of San Diego shipyards, of 
handsome sailors you couldn’t trust. Make vivid the night with me 
before me in it. Tell me what was lost on the way to Detroit. Tell me
what was lost leaving Detroit. Tell me why I’m afraid for and of 
Detroit. Tell me Desire can’t mean what it meant anymore. And I 
can’t mean what I meant anymore. Am I lovesick with amnesia or 
nostalgia?

 

I sit twelve people down the church pew from you, trying to catch
the rhythm in your blinking. I seek more than your face. It hurts 
to see the way sound makes a tunnel. Its root-veined walls there then 
gone. You and I compose another kind.

                                              *  *  *

Witness my long line of lovestruck liars: those who can’t take the sky, 
deceivers of their own eyes, change lovers, receivers of forgetfulness, 
ecstatic touchmongers, merciless collagists, the spiritually jackknifed, 
ever-children and the like. I am each of them and heavy hands red on 
cold glass holding why-still-blue water, in dull music, surrounded by 
bloom, fear-lit and forever-fraught. This is a truth; not-quite-closed 
eyes scrambling over nakedness elusive as hope. But barely hope. 
Lovestruck, lying, I wonder about everything I’ll find in this body—
and this body. I wonder what it knows. I wonder about yours.

 

I am wrapped in a shawl of patchwork wants. Of languages displaced 
in veins. Of sheet rock cut open with explosives to force through 
byways and sow man-high seas of crops, to make space for 
interstates, for cold emergencies and tanks, and touch.

                                              *  *  *

I am stitched together with the risk inside Desire. Call risk a bridge. 
Call one palm full of why-still-blue water—oh, how my mind is just 
my mind crossing. Not the limb of a ghost stuck in the hinge of a 
door. Not the fight lost inherent in a child. Who was it that dipped an 
index finger into my mouth, fished that penny from my tongue, 
saved me from some dumb Desire? Who was it? Who watched as I 
stood there too in line, too silent, trying to fall behind, an almost 
question in my near-new eyes?

The Broken Man’s Permission

A crocodile slips its earth-toned body 
back into the river, in silence, violence down
and for its nightness

I cannot see the water. With fear 
I am alone. Slick rocks smile thin anonymous light, they lie

about what I am. I see and try to hold
my body in my body, trace a vein 
from the base of my palm through 

the crook of my elbow, armpit, home—home 
makes no sense. I've given up on what I know.

This blindness is a mirror turning
back to sand still hollowed, where 
every sound is amplified. I want to be the crocodile’s

stomach that is my father, teeth
that are my mother, vertebrae 

that aggregate the spine that are loves, knuckled
angles casing nerves. It’s me wading around
inside, mouth open. A humid numbness dense, low, 

beneath the undertow: hands that coax and claim
my scaled neck, soothe and pull

each knotted shoulder. I give in to a third of moon caught
in cloud, its orange-grey halo drawn away 
from what can be named, known. A curse and prayer 

to go unchanged within this water, my movement 
foreign, a rootless gurgle, flit of river vines

caging the dwindling
river’s brutal bed, the gorge, flushed 
with new food: the blue heron’s bone-flight collapsed,

tangled feathers along the mudglut bank’s 
saliva, lifting like shame in the open.

Another Strange Land: Downpour off Cape Hatteras (March, 1864)

                          for my ancestor
                          in the Pennsylvania 25th Colored Infantry
                          aboard the Suwanee

 

First a penny-sized hole in the hull
                     then eager saltwater rushing over
    us and clouds swirling and clotting
            the moonlight—no time to stop and look upon it
as the hole becomes an iron mouth,
    makes strange sounds, peels and tears
                        open iron as iron should not open—

muffled and heavy         us becoming underwater
                     we confused the metal echo and thunder
         as the same death knell from God’s mouth—

we been done           floated all this way down 
           in dark blue used
      uniforms, how far from slavers’ dried-out fields
in Virginia, Pennsylvania—wherever

                                         we came from now we   
         barely and only
                    see and hear an ocean
                                        whipped into storm

not horror, not glory, but storm
                   not fear, not power, but focus
             on the work of breathing, living as the storm
rocks us and our insides upside down        turns
                   hard tack into empty nausea—

                 so close to death I thought I saw the blaze-
            sick fields of Berryville again, the curling fingers
                             of tobacco, hurt fruit and flower—
                      but no, but         no.

             I say no to death now. I’m nobody’s slave
                                    now. I’m alive     and not alone,
one of those      who escaped and made    myself
                 a soldier a weapon a stone in David’s sling
       riding the air above the deep. I grow more dangerous
to those who want me. I ain’t going back
                                 to anywhere I been before.

                 I grab a bucket. You grab a bucket. We the 25th
       Pennsylvania Colored Infantry, newly formed
                            and too alive and close to free
          to sink below this midnight water. 36 hours—chaos
shoveling-lifting-throwing       ocean back into ocean
                         to reach land and war in the Carolinas. 

       I stole my body back       from death and going down
                        more than once. I steal my breath
           tonight and every night      I will not drown.