Danez Smith is the winner of a 2014 Ruth Lilly/Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He is the author of [insert] boy (2014, YesYes Books). He is a Cave Canem, VONA, and McKnight Foundation Fellow. His writing has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Beloit Poetry Journal, Kinfolks & elsewhere. He is a founding member of the multi-genre, multicultural collective Dark Noise. Danez placed second at the 2014 Individual World Poetry Slam. He holds a BA from UW-Madison where he was a First Wave Urban Arts Scholar. He lives in Minneapolis, MN.
not an elegy for Mike Brown
I am sick of writing this poem
but bring the boy. his new name
his same old body. ordinary, black
dead thing. bring him & we will mourn
until we forget what we are mourning
& isn't that what being black is about?
not the joy of it, but the feeling
you get when you are looking
at your child, turn your head
then, poof, no more child.
that feeling. that's black.
think: once, a white girl
was kidnapped & that's the Trojan war.
later, up the block, Troy got shot
& that was Tuesday. are we not worthy
of a city of ash? of 1000 ships
launched because we are missed?
always, something deserves to be burned.
it's never the right thing.
I demand a war to bring the dead boy back
no matter what his name is this time.
I at least demand a song. a head.
a song will do for now.
look at what the lord has made.
above Missouri, sweet smoke.
in my most recent future, I am young & beautiful & dead, the
bones undressing themselves, the body turned to an idea of
the body. or let's say there is a cure & the parades that
follow & I live to see my children & the oceans grow bigger,
see my mother lowered into & become the earth. I hope I
bury my mother. don't make her deal with the business of
dressing me. It's been so long since the last time & may she
never again. but that's not what this poem is for. I'm want to
talk about blunts & boys, how both burn my lips so, how they
call the wings to my shoulders. I want to talk about the
impossible impossible of God or the smell of good rain or how
joy is the black girl who made me soft collards & peppered
fish before she took me into the room & showed me my
name. I don't want to talk about the virus, so to hell with the
virus. to hell with blood. to hell with yesterday & the settled
dust. to hell with shame & loathing & shame & madness &
shame & shame & shame & shame. I'm not shamed for all
my mouth has turned into a slow lake of stars, for my body &
all the false gods worshipped here. my body a godless
church, holy for no reason beyond itself. let the curse be the
old testament & each day I am still alive be the new. if there
is no savior, I'll do it myself, I'll forgive myself of my sins. I
forgive. I forgive. I forgive. I forgive. I live. I live.
Tomorrow, as everyday,
I will see the man who looks like my father
& shakes like my aunt, tangled in his wild, ashen song
& I'll think "I must make him beautiful"
as if he is not already, so no, I only seek to be a vessel
for his jittered light – the drug you know.
Tomorrow, when I see the man riddled with too many blues
since Reagan, I'll follow, learn his new language & it's hymns
(sometimes it's the name of children locked away
in summer, sometimes just a boy crying for whoever will come).
Come, ye of lacquered flesh!
Come children of Othello & Aretha!
Our uncle will wake up a god, let us praise his stumbling gospels
let us not tell him he is not a god, not yet.
Follow him, ye black & bruised people! Follow!
flee your homes carrying whatever makes noise, be it drum or lit swisher
fireworks or skillet or Janae's hair, beaded with joy.
& tomorrow the clack of her braids will not sound like a sudden mist
of bullets, we listen to her shake her head & only hear a reason to dance.
Tomorrow, we flood the streets with song be it Gospel or Gucci Mane,
Earth, Wind & Fire or just the sound of water on a black man's back.
Tomorrow, we watch our daughters pick their hair out
in public & shout hosanna & merciful & ashe.
Come, think not of work or school or whatever you do to survive
our new motherland. Tomorrow anything that doesn't love your darkness
has no name.
We must refuse to tithe to a beast that keeps swallowing the children
sending the fathers to wade in profitable dungeons.
Come, tomorrow, we walk until the prisons turn to tulips
& prisoner means man dancing in a yellow field.
Tomorrow, we walk & our feet will beat an earth prayer
& the daughters caught in crossfire dance a last dance
in fresh graves. We walk until our feet are red as August sky
& not blood, we will walk until our feet
are barely feet to the ocean that brought us here
the one riddled with sharks & familiar bones
& we will say to her
what have you done with the kin we lost in your wet mouth?
& she will say
that was ages ago, you have drank them by now.
& we will not understand, we'll name the ocean
a drunk, wingless god, & swear off water all together
until one woman, skin dark as a funeral dress
walks to the water's lip
shouts Emmitt to the waves
spits in the tide
&, surely, surely, a boy begins
crawling his way to shore.