Published on Academy of American Poets (

Black Laws

Fuss, fight, and cutting the huckley-buck—Dear Malindy,
Underground, must I always return to the country of the dead,

To the coons catting about in the trees, the North Carolina pines
Chattering about sweetening bodies in their green whirring?

Do these letters predict my death—some sound of a twig
Breaking then a constant drowning—a butter bean drying

Beneath my nails? Casket, rascal, and corn bread cooling board.
Dear Malindy, when the muskrats fight in the swamp I knows

It’s you causing my skull to rattle. You predicted my death
With my own baby teeth and a rancid moon beneath our legs.

No girl, my arm still here. The antlers on the mantle yet quiet.
All the ocean’s water without me and yet in me. Never mind,

Malindy. They already shot the black boy on the road for dying
Without their permission. Yes, gal, I put on my nice suit. And wait.


Copyright © 2013 by Roger Reeves. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 11, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

About this Poem

"'Black Laws' is in conversation with so many things at once: Paul Laurence Dunbar and his dialect poems, the folk music group the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jonathan Ferrell, lynching, John Berryman, elegy, and, most of all, the easily eradicable nature of black folks' lives in America. Every day I wonder if I'm next—the next Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, or Jonathan Ferrell. I wonder who will sing for me when I'm gone."
—Roger Reeves


Roger Reeves

Roger Reeves earned his PhD from the University of Texas, Austin, and is the author of King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013), winner of the Larry Levis Reading Prize, the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award, and a John C. Zacharis First Book Award.

Date Published: 2013-11-11

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