Issue 132 |
Spring 2017

Self-Portrait as a Dead Black Boy

I.

at thirteen for a whole dark season

I was lethal with my pellet gun murdering

small things that wandered into yard stalking

the thin woods between our house & the highway—

I picked off any bird squirrel rabbit snake

I could track if I had two surprised seconds

to explain the meaning of my hands my instincts

would have been to show you the weapon

to turn hoping you could see the gentleness

poised behind the risk—: so when Tamir Rice

was shot X times: the toy pistol he carried

couldn’t have killed anything big or small

even if he’d tried:— but of course

as the story goes that math’s all wrong

II.

the law among my friends growing up:

whoever’s car had the best sound—assuming

they wasn’t in trouble with they mamma—drove

we rode the wheels off of TT’s grandma’s

burgundy hooptie because of how

the bass from its speakers trembled the tips

of our hair & slapped our young bodies alive

with a beat—: so when Jordan Davis

was shot X times: his legs & lungs

& aorta pierced—a citizen who hated

the rattle that black folks can make when

they make it out the house:— all around

America’s trespass music fell even now

a different mood than mine hits my ears like rain

III.

I made it to twenty-eight without owning

a gun & then my son burst onto the scene

with thousands of miles between me & my

WA tribe—so I learned it took just hours to return

loaded & licensed to conceal a new danger

however as soon as I felt that dark

weight tucked against my torso I realized

the mistake—how few & unsafe the scenarios

with me pointing this threat at another

threat to survive—: so now I’m preparing my heart

to receive the next shots: on my knees until a new

divinity forbids another black body burned down

according to an imagination that feeds

its godliness with fear as seen through smoke

IV.

in my thirties now I buy sneakers that don’t

slip off my feet & feel older for the fit

on the way home from getting new pairs

we stop at a local farmers’ market &

before exiting the vehicle my boy & I change

into our fresh kicks to feel godly while walking

the aisles of produce & hand-crafted candles—:

so when Philando Castile was shot X times:

one bullet searing through each year

of his little girl’s life in the back seat I can’t

see his shoes in the documentary of this dying

but his life slides in & out of his safety

belt as the cop keeps a pistol trained:—

a small dark sun questioning his open window

V.

sometimes a sleeplessness

blesses you: in our shared family bed

I lie awake & hear the steady

sonata of my wife & son’s unconscious

breath turning our room

into some shore with a mid-night tidal

music I wouldn’t want to live

without—: so when

Eric Garner was denied

air for X seconds: the song

& kin of his lungs flattened

above the city’s dirty sidewalk

:—let us pray

VI.

on occasion I weep

while watching the living

brown X of my hand move

across the page: swift &

controlled & sometimes remaining

perfectly still—: so I’ve written

this poem in longhand

in the best cursive I can manage

none of which can keep me

alive no matter the grace