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Joshua Bennett

Joshua Bennett is the author of Owed, forthcoming in 2020 from Penguin, and The Sobbing School (Penguin, 2016), winner of the 2015 National Poetry Series. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. He is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Dartmouth College.

By This Poet

4

Owed to the Plastic on Your Grandmother's Couch

Which could almost be said
to glisten, or glow,
like the weaponry
in heaven.
Frictionless.
As if slickened
with some Pentecost
-al auntie’s last bottle
of anointing oil, an ark
of no covenant
one might easily name,
apart from the promise
to preserve all small
& distinctly mortal forms
of loveliness
any elder
African American
woman makes
the day she sees sixty.
Consider the garden
of collards & heirloom
tomatoes only,
her long, single braid
streaked with gray
like a gathering
of weather,
the child popped
in church for not
sitting still, how even that,
they say, can become an omen
if you aren’t careful,
if you don’t act like you know
all Newton’s laws
don’t apply to us
the same. Ain’t no equal
& opposite reaction
to the everyday brawl
race in America is,
no body so beloved
it cannot be destroyed.
So we hold on to what
we cannot hold.
Adorn it
in Vaseline, or gold,
or polyurethane wrapping.
Call it ours
& don’t
mean owned.
Call it just
like new,
mean alive.

In Defense of Henry Box Brown

Not every trauma has a price
point. You & I are special
that way. No doubt, there is good
money to be made in the rehearsal of
a father’s rage, an empty crate,
whatever instrument ushered us into
lives of impure repetition. Years on
end, you replayed your infamous
escape for hundreds
of tearful devoted, sold out
shows an ocean away from the place
that made you possible, made you parcel,
uncommon contraband carried
over amber ululations of grain
& grass & filthy hands:
white, black, unwitting all the same.
If they had only known the weight
of what passed before them.
The wait you waded through.
Twenty-seven hours spent inside
a 3x2 jail of splinter & rust. I too
have signed over the rights to all my
best wounds. I know the stage
is a leviathan with no proper name
to curtail its breadth. I know
the respectable man enjoys a dark body best
when it comes with a good
cry thrown in. I know all the code
words, Henry. Why you nicknamed
the violence. Why all your nightmares
end in vermilion.

You Are So Articulate With Your Hands

she says & it’s the first time
the word doesn’t hurt. I respond
by citing something age-inappropriate
from Aristotle, drawing mostly
from his idea that hands are what make us
human, every gesture the embodiment
of our desire for invention or care & I’m not
sure about that last part but it seemed
like a polite response at the time
& I’m not accustomed to not needing
to fight. If my hands speak with conviction
then blame my stupid mouth for its lack
of weaponry or sweetness. I clap when I’m angry
because it’s the best way to get the heat out.
Pop says that my words are bigger
than my mouth but these hands
can block a punch, build a bookcase,
feed a child & when’s the last time
you saw a song do that?