No, Kanye, it’s not LIKE we’re mentally in prison
for my grandfather We don’t have heirlooms. Haven’t owned things long enough. We’re hoarding us in our stories. Like October 26—the Oklahoma Quick Stop gas at 90¢ and, in 158 more days, Passion of the Christ in a wildlife refuge with Rabbits foot and Black Capped birds—when Edgar Whetstone shoots himself. Like August 4, 1919. Like Ada Willis births the boy conceived with Boy gone somewhere. Like her prayers and circa 10 years past and Mr. Charlie saying, Edgar reads (you call that clean?) but please, girl, coloreds don’t become doctors. Like Edgar trashed his books. Like served, discharged. Like funeral director close to doctor as it got. Formaldehyde wrecked him like Time to get up out the South Detroit inspect dynamics burn a house down torch the county jail. Like now, October. Like I found, searching the internet, one shot of the asylum’s blurry hall empty but for an organ’s pipes. I saw Edgar deluding hymns rousing the two of us in Rock of Ages followed by Philippians 1:21—to die is gain. No way to prove the claim, you die in dream, you die for real. Our family still hanged from trees. Like if they ever fall, no one will hear it someday for a while.
Copyright © 2019 by Erica Dawson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 29, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“I’ve wanted to tell my grandfather’s story for years, hoping to bring attention to the mental traumas Black Americans experience, every day, because of our country’s systemic racism. We often speak about violence against the Black body. I wanted to focus on violence against the mind.”
Erica Dawson is the author of three books of poetry, including her most recent When Rap Spoke Straight to God (Tin House, 2018) and The Small Blades Hurt (Measure Press, 2014).
Date Published: 2019-03-29
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/no-kanye-its-not-were-mentally-prison